Amazon founder Jeff Bezos is famously private and rarely, if ever, speaks publicly about politics. But when a former Amazon colleague, a lesbian mother of four, asked Bezos to donate up to $200,000 to support a gay-marriage referendum in Washington state, Bezos and his wife MacKenzie jumped into one of the culture war's most controversial battles by pledging $2.5 million. The news comes shortly after Chick-fil-A president Dan Cathy stirred up a hornet's nest — and provoked demands for a boycott of Chick-fil-A — by going public with his opposition to gay marriage. Here, four takeaways from Bezos' donation:
1. Bezos' money could be a game-changer in Washington
Washington lawmakers, like their counterparts and courts in six other states, have declared gay marriage legal, and Referendum 74 would affirm the law. But the measure faces "well-financed, well-organized opposition," says Michael D. Shear at The New York Times. Now, with the stroke of a pen, Jeff and MacKenzie Bezos have doubled the amount of money behind Referendum 74, which might explain why proponents say this is a "game-changing gift."
2. Conservatives may boycott Amazon
"They say for every reaction, there is a counter-reaction," says Joe Gandelman at The Moderate Voice. Now that Bezos is gay-rights advocates' high-profile, big-bucks answer to Dan Cathy, the Amazon boss should brace himself for something akin to the Chick-fil-A boycott that greeted Cathy's anti-gay stance. Apparently, "what chicken sandwich you eat and where you buy your books may define you in 21st century America."
3. Clearly, business titans have lost their fear of this issue
Bezos' gift is another sign that business leaders are no longer afraid of "wading into this hot-button political issue," says Jena McGregor at The Washington Post. Billionaire CEOs who don't want to speak out on immigration or health-care reform "are increasingly willing to take a stand on same-sex marriage." Lloyd Blankfein of Goldman Sachs took part in the Human Rights Campaign's "marriage equality" video in February, and Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer gave $100,000 to support the referendum in Washington. Don't expect Cathy and Bezos to be the last top executives to weigh in.
4. And we should applaud business leaders for taking a stand
This is how a real "straight ally" of the gay rights movement acts, says Andrew Sullivan at The Daily Beast. Bezos is putting his money where his heart is. By contrast, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Boston Mayor Thomas Menino responded to Cathy's stand against gay marriage by acting like "bullies," trying to shut Cathy up by blocking Chick-fil-A from building restaurants in their cities. Civil rights movements are about expanding everyone's rights, and you can't do that by squelching one side's right to speak freely. Bezos is demonstrating that the way to fight for civil rights is by "enlarging speech, not restricting it."