Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and his wife MacKenzie donated $2.5 million this week to help support a same-sex marriage referendum in Washington State. The donation was large enough to make the couple the biggest supporters of gay marriage rights in the country.
A former employee had written to Mr. Bezos and asked if he would be willing to donate $100,000 to $200,000 to the cause. The Amazon CEO instead doubled what the former employees gay-rights group has earned.
In her letter to Jeff Bezos former employee Jennifer Cast wrote:
“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.” 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.”
The cash donation will be used to support Referendum 74, a bill meant to legalize same-sex marriage by affirming a law that was pasted by the Legislature earlier in the year.
Bezos isn’t the only computer whiz to offer big money to supporters of the referendum, Bill Gates and Steven A. Ballmer of Microsoft also donated $100,000 each.
The push for money to support gay-rights has hit new levels following President Obama’s support of a gay persons right to wed along with recent comments by Chick Fil A in which gay-rights are attacked, a move that has revitalized many gay-rights supporters.
Increasing a coffers war chest of funds is important in the battle for gay rights where many states have powerful oppositions with plenty of money. Traditional marriage supports have managed to defeat 32 ballot measures in support of gay-marriage rights.
So why the big donation? Sure it’s likely that Bezos, Gates and Ballmer, all simply have gay friends or understand the fundamental human rights issues involved with absolute equality, but on a purely economic decision gay rights makes sense. Consumers flocking to Amazon.com are not likely going to abandon the site over its CEOs support because its prices are lower than competitors during a time of economic uncertainty and its customer service policies are outstanding. On the other hand the donation shows that the CEO and his company are willing to stand up for general human rights issues. Even if the referendum is defeated a gay-rights opponent can’t deny that Amazon is willing to be a “people” company, an organization that uses its money to push support towards fundamental issues. Consumers don’t like “evil Walmart” because of its payscale but they love it for its cheap prices during a recessionary period, hence Walmart despite largely disagreed upon support of low wages continues to succeed.
Minus a few crazies who spew hate on forum boards and in comment sections for gay-rights most people I have spoken to who oppose gay-marriage do so on a fundamental religious level. In fact many of the very people who will vote against such a measure have gay friends, work with gay employees and in many cases support gay rights in terms of civil unions for the purposes of taxes, adoption, etc. Amazon isn’t likely to alienate the non-hate based opponents of the referendum because honestly they are not looking at the issue not as “them vs. us” and more as a “them vs. a belief system.” If consumers shopped based off their belief system Amazon.com wouldn’t be the largest book seller in the country, that honor would belong to a Christian book seller. The truth is consumers will boycott a Chick Fil A for anti-gay comments before they abandon Amazon.com for gay support because they can always go to KFC or Popeyes but there simply isn’t another Amazon.com.
Essentially Bezos can gain the support of the gay community while likely doing very little to alienate current customers. Sure a few people have boycotted Starbucks but their profits were up 19% in the recent quarter and while lower than Wall Street estimates the company remains strong and their expansion into new beverage markets is moving forward rapidly.
It breaks down like this, most religious people who fundamentally don’t support certain issues such as gay rights also don’t walk around all day thinking “what would Jesus do” or “what company’s do I need to avoid today” instead they use their belief system to argue their point and move on. Our thoughts might still be rooted in religious overtones these days but our actions tell a different story.
Stephen Colbert said it best:
“If this is going to be a Christian nation that doesn’t help the poor, either we have to pretend that Jesus was just as selfish as we are, or we’ve got to acknowledge that He commanded us to love the poor and serve the needy without condition and then admit that we just don’t want to do it.”
Will Jeff Bezos’ donation single handily turn the tide of gay-marriage in Washington? We’ll know soon enough. In the meantime his donation makes business sense as he’ll likely alienate very few people because of his company’s ability to save consumers money, while at the same time Amazon.com could gain support from the gay community which realizes that the organization is using part of its profits to help their cause.