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The Amazon Factor
The man behind the magic gives $2.5 million to equality

In late July, amid roaring controversy over businesses with antigay ties, Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos and his wife, MacKenzie, quietly gave the largest-ever reported donation to a marriage equality organization.

It came at the earnest request of a former Amazon employee, Jennifer Cast. She’s now the finance cochair for Washington United for Marriage, a coalition of organizations, congregations, unions, and businesses working to defend the state’s law establishing civil marriage rights for same-sex couples in a ballot battle in November.

Cast told The New York Times that she had emailed Bezos, expressing her wish to marry her partner of more than 20 years, with whom she has four children. “We need help from straight people,” she wrote. “To be very frank, we need help from wealthy straight people who care about us and who want to help us win.”

The response, a few days later, was brief: “Jen, this is right for so many reasons. We’re in for $2.5 million. Jeff and MacKenzie.”

In February, Washington became the seventh state to legalize same-sex marriage when Gov. Christine Gregoire signed the bill into law. But the day before the law was set to take effect in June, opponents turned in enough signatures to put Referendum 74 on the ballot (a yes vote preserves marriage equality). With their contribution, the Bezoses doubled the funds raised by Washington United for Marriage, for a total of $5 million. The group’s opponent, Preserve Marriage Washington, had raised less than $255,000 as of early August.

For Bezos, who rarely makes public appearances or holds showy press conferences, the donation was a chance to put money toward a cause he and his wife feel strongly about, says Amazon spokesman Drew Herdener. The Bezoses join Microsoft founder Bill Gates and CEO Steven A. Ballmer, who each donated $100,000 to the referendum campaign.

Microsoft  has also signed on to a court brief opposing the Defense of Marriage Act, among nearly 50 other companies including Nike, Starbucks, Google, CBS, Levi Strauss, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts, the Ogilvy Group, Time Warner Cable, Xerox, Zipcar, and Zynga.