Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and his wife, MacKenzie, have given $2.5 million to fund efforts in the state of Washington to legalize same-sex marriage, effectively doubling the current electoral war chest of proponents.
The gift was announced by Washington United for Marriage, the coalition working to pass Referendum 74 in November. It’s believed to be the largest individual gift “to secure or protect the freedom to marry,” the group said in a statement released on its website. Washington is one of four states where the issue of same-sex marriage will be on the ballot this year.
“The extraordinary contribution from Jeff and MacKenzie Bezos will make an enormous difference for our campaign to defend Washington’s marriage law,” said Zach Silk, the group’s campaign manager. “While it provides an amazing base for the work ahead, we hope it spurs others to invest because we’re a long way from November and we face opponents with deep pockets who are committed to spending millions to defeat us.”
The state Legislature in Washington legalized same-sex marriage in February with a big assist from Gov. Christine Gregoire, a Democrat, who pushed for the bill.
But opponents, including the group Preserve Marriage Washington, collected enough signatures to put the legislation to a vote. That measure is known as Referendum 74. Those opposed to gay marriage have said they intend to raise as much as $4 million; proponents of gay marriage say they’re seeking far more -- a recognition of the difficulties same-sex marriage votes have had.
Polls over the past year have shown support for gay marriage nationally. For example, a Washington Post-ABC News poll in May found that 53% of respondents believed that gay marriage should be legal while 39% said they were opposed to gay marriage.
But same-sex marriage issues haven’t done well on ballots. Voters have rejected such measures in all 32 states where they’ve been on the ballot.
Opponents of same-sex marriage say the polls are misleading because of the way the questions are phrased. People tend to support the idea of marriage being defined as between a man and a woman when the issue is cast in those terms, they say.
Six states -- Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, and Vermont -- as well as the District of Columbia grant same-sex couples the right to marry; at least two states recognize such marriages performed elsewhere. At least 12 states prohibit same-sex marriages by law and about 30 have constitutional bans.
This fall, voters in four states will directly confront the issue. Both Washington and Maryland have passed same-sex marriage laws, and voters will be asked to confirm or veto them. Maine voters will be asked to decide whether to approve same-sex marriage via an initiative, while in Minnesota, voters will decide whether to approve a constitutional ban on gay marriage.
The timing of the votes -- during a presidential election year -- could make the issue more fractious. In May, President Obama announced that he supports legalizing same-sex marriage; his GOP opponent Mitt Romney has said he does not favor same-sex marriage.
Bezos, who founded Amazon.com in 1994 in Seattle, is among top business executives in Washington who have donated to the same-sex referendum. Bill Gates and Steven A. Ballmer of Microsoft each gave $100,000.