SEATTLE (AP) — Amazon.com founder and CEO Jeff Bezos on Friday said he was giving $2.5 million to the campaign to defend Washington state’s gay marriage law, giving the biggest high-profile donation so far to an issue that is hotly debated in many places across the U.S.
Other prominent Pacific Northwest businesses and their leaders have publicly supported the law, including Microsoft, Starbucks Corp. and Nike Inc. Last month, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and co-founder Bill Gates each donated $100,000.
“It's a game changer for us,” Washington United for Marriage campaign manager Zach Silk said of the Bezos gift. “It puts us in unique position to win.” He said the group has now raised more than $5 million for Referendum 74 on the November ballot.
But the group is still the underdog, he said. In 32 previous elections nationally, he said, same-sex advocates have lost, though President Barack Obama put a brighter spotlight on the issue this year when he expressed his support for same-sex marriage.
The referendum was put on the Washington ballot after gay marriage opponents turned in more than 240,000 signatures, seeking to overturn the gay marriage law signed in February by Gov. Chris Gregoire. The law was supposed to take effect June 7 but has been put on hold.
The chairman of Preserve Marriage Washington, which organized the effort against gay marriage, said that while he was surprised by the size of the Bezos donation, his campaign has always expected that it would be outspent by gay marriage supporters.
“We're optimistic about what’s going to happen in the end,” Joseph Backholm said. “Jeff Bezos gets to vote just one time like everyone else in state. That’s the great equalizer.''
As of Friday, Preserve Marriage had raised just over $253,000, though Silk expects it will receive cash late in the campaign from the Washington, D.C.-based National Organization for Marriage, which was involved in ballot measures that overturned same-sex marriage in California and Maine.
There was no direct comment from Bezos.
Amazon spokesman Drew Herdener said the donation was a personal decision and that “Jeff and MacKenzie feel strongly about the issue.”
Gay marriage is being battled over in several states.
Same-sex marriage is legal in New York, Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont and Washington, D.C.
Maryland legalized gay marriage this year, but it's poised to have a public vote this fall. In Maine, voters again will decide on an initiative to approve same-sex marriage. And in Minnesota, voters will decide whether to pass a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage.
Photo: Jeff Bezos