The Touching Story Behind Jeff and MacKenzie Bezos' $2.5 Million Gift in Support of Gay Marriage

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A plea for support from a former Amazon employee results in big money for Washington United for Marriage.

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This morning, Washington United for Marriage announced a gift of "historic" proportions: $2.5 million from Jeff and MacKenzie Bezos, of Amazon fame and fortune, to go toward efforts to pass Referendum 74, which would legalize same-sex marriage in Washington, where the online retailer is based. With that one gift, the Bezoses have joined the ranks of the top financial backers of gay marriage in the country.

Why the sudden large check? The New York Times reports that the gift came as the result of a request from one of Amazon's earliest employees, Jennifer Cast, a volunteer for Washington United for Marriage and a mother of four children she is raising with her longtime partner. The Times reports:

In her e-mail, sent Sunday evening, Ms. Cast, 50, implored Mr. Bezos to understand the importance of the issue to her and her longtime partner.

"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," Ms. Cast wrote. "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."

In an interview on Thursday night, Ms. Cast said she had no idea how Mr. Bezos would respond. Though she had worked closely with him when Amazon had only a few dozen employees, she left the company in 2001 and said she had never talked about same-sex marriage with him.

"We were chatting about the biz. We weren't chatting about our lives," she said, recalling her time at the company. "I never, ever in my life talked to him about gay marriage."

In the e-mail, Ms. Cast described in detail the pain she endured as a young adult and the difficulties she faced publicly acknowledging her sexuality. At the end, she pointedly asked him to donate between $100,000 and $200,000 to the referendum cause.

"Jeff, I suspect you support marriage equality," she wrote. "I beg you not to sit on the sidelines and hope the vote goes our way. Help us make it so."

She hit "send" and waited.

Two days later, on Tuesday, she received a reply while in a car with her family. Recalling that moment, she said she had to read it out loud twice to make sure she had read it right.

"Jen," the e-mail said, "this is right for so many reasons. We're in for $2.5 million. Jeff & MacKenzie."


H/t @mims.

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Rebecca J. Rosen is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where she oversees the Business Channel. She was previously an associate editor at The Wilson Quarterly.

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