- (Photo: Reuters/Shannon Stapleton)
The founder and CEO of Amazon.com has pledged a $2.5 million donation toward a campaign that seeks to uphold Washington state's same-sex marriage law, after he was inspired to do so by a former employee.
The large contribution by Jeff Bezos and his wife, MacKenzie, is expected to provide a significant boost to the Washington United for Marriage coalition, which seeks to make sure marriage continues to include gay and lesbian couples.
"It's a game changer for us," said the organization's campaign manager Zach Silk. "It puts us in unique position to win."
The battle over the definition of manage in the state has intensified. Although gay couples received the right to marry earlier this year, a referendum in June gathered close to 250,000 signatures, which means that the state will once again vote on the issue in November.
According to a story published by The New York Times, an email from a lesbian employee might have inspired Bezos and his wife to make such a large contribution.
The email was sent on Sunday by Jennifer Cast, identified as one of Amazon's earliest employees and a lesbian mother of four children who is raising funds to battle the Washington referendum.
"I want to have the right to marry the love of my life and to let my children and grandchildren know their family is honored like a 'real' family,'" the 50-year-old mother reportedly wrote. "We need help from straight people. To be very frank, we need help from wealthy straight people who care about us and who want to help us win."
Cast revealed that she had left the company in 2001 and never really talked to Bezos about such issues, so she could not be certain how or if her former employer would respond.
"Jeff, I suspect you support marriage equality," she said at the end her email, hoping that he would donate between $100,000 and $200,000. "I beg you not to sit on the sidelines and hope the vote goes our way. Help us make it so."
She received a reply back on Tuesday, according to the Times, which read: "This is right for so many reasons. We're in for $2.5 million. Jeff & MacKenzie."
However, Silk is now feeling confident that such a large donation will attract more public donations and help with outreach efforts for the campaign.
"They understand what's at stake for Washington families and what's at stake for the country," he added. "We're at a tipping point, and they really understand this is an historic moment, and they want to be on the right side of history and want to make history."
The Bezos' donation comes only a month after Microsoft founder Bill Gates, along with current CEO Stebe Ballmar each made $100,000 donations toward supporting the same law in Washington.
Despite the high-profile support of big-name company executives, people seeking to reinstate the traditional definition of marriage in Washington are hoping to raise enough public support for their cause.
"We had more than 1,500 churches and more than 5,000 individuals involved in the signature collection effort," said Joseph Backholm, chairman of Preserve Marriage Washington.
"We know those trying to redefine marriage are highly motivated, well organized, and well-funded. We expect to have to work very hard and will need the involvement of every common sense conservative in Washington State."