With critical donation, Amazon's Jeff Bezos '86, MacKenzie Bezos '92 back same-sex marriage
Amazon founder and billionaire Jeff Bezos ’86 and his wife MacKenzie Bezos ’92 have donated $2.5 million of their fortune to a political action committee that supports same-sex marriage in Washington, a donation announced by the PAC on Friday morning. The couple’s gift instantly doubled the fundraising haul of Washington United for Marriage, which is organizing to preserve same-sex marriage in the state.
The Bezoses’ donation is believed to be the largest donation to legalize or preserve same-sex marriage, according to WUM. With the Bezoses’ gift, WUM has now raised over $5 million to support Referendum 74, a referendum that will put same-sex marriage up for a vote this November. The state legislature voted in favor of gay marriage in February, but opponents collected enough signatures over the next few months to send it directly to the voters.
Six states currently grant marriages to same-sex couples, but that number could rise to nine if voters in Washington, Maryland and Maine approve same-sex marriage in November. Like Washington’s legislature, Maryland policymakers signed off on gay marriage, but voters will have the final say in a referendum this fall. Maine will vote on a ballot initiative to legalize same-sex marriage; if it passes, gay marriage will be legal in every state in New England save Rhode Island.
The Bezoses declined to comment to The Daily Princetonian on their donation. A spokesperson for Amazon, which is based in Seattle, described the donation in an email as a “personal decision” and noted that “Jeff and MacKenzie feel strongly about the issue.”
Jeff Bezos, estimated to be worth $18.4 billion, made the donation after being approached by a lesbian former colleague at Amazon, The New York Times reported. The woman, who is also the referendum fundraising chairwoman, asked Bezos to donate between $100,000 and $200,000 to the cause, asking him not to “sit on the sidelines and hope the vote goes our way.”
“This is right for so many reasons,” Bezos replied to his long-time colleague. “We’re in for $2.5 million.”
David Risher ’87, a classmate of Jeff Bezos and a former top executive at Amazon until Risher left in 2002, called the donation "enormous" and said he hoped it would inspire their colleagues at Amazon to also contribute to campaigns and causes.
Risher noted that Bezos usually makes donations quietly, which infuses this public donation with potential to inspire similar gifts.
Jeff Bezos and his wife donated $15 million to the University this past December to establish the Bezos Center for Neural Circuit Dynamics, a unit of the Princeton Neuroscience Institute. The center is expected to open in summer 2013, according to a University press release.
A year earlier, Bezos delivered the Baccalaureate address, urging graduates to use their gift of education to make smart and compassionate decisions.
“Cleverness is a gift; kindness is a choice,” he said. “How will you use your gifts? What choices will you make? Will you choose a life of ease, or a life of service and adventure?”
“In the end, we are our choices. Build yourself a great story,” he said.
At the University, Bezos majored in computer science and electrical engineering and graduated Phi Beta Kappa and with highest honors. Mackenzie Bezos ’92 was an English major, earned a certificate in creative writing and graduated with highest honors as well.
Jeff Bezos was a member of Quadrangle Club and described himself in a 1998 interview with the 'Prince’ as “a mean beer pong player.”
“Everybody who gets to go to Princeton is incredibly lucky,” he said, “and it was an unbelievable experience for me — both valuable and fun.”
The Bezoses were not the only Ivy League billionaires to donate to WUM. Microsoft founder Bill Gates, a Harvard drop-out, and Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer, a Harvard graduate, each donated $100,000 to the campaign.