Amazon.com founder and CEO Jeff Bezos on Friday said he was giving $2.5 million to the campaign to defend Washington state's gay marriage law, weighing in on an issue that is hotly debated in many places across the U.S.
With the gift, Washington United for Marriage says it has raised more than $5 million for Referendum 74 on the November ballot. Last month, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and co-founder Bill Gates each donated $100,000.
"It's a game changer for us," campaign manager Zach Silk said of the Bezos gift. "It puts us in unique position to win."
But his group is still the underdog, he said. In 32 previous elections nationally, he said, same-sex advocates have lost.
The referendum was put on the Washington ballot after gay marriage opponents turned in more than 240,000 signatures, seeking to overturn the gay marriage law signed in February by Gov. Chris Gregoire. The law was supposed to take effect June 7 but has been put on hold.
Preserve Marriage Washington wants to keep marriage between one man and one woman, "because marriage is a unique institution that is profoundly in the common good," the group says on its website. A call to the group's office Friday was not answered.
Gay marriage is being battled over in several states, and President Barack Obama put a spotlight on the issue this year when he expressed his support for same-sex marriage.
Silk expects the state's gay marriage opponents will receive cash late in the campaign from the Washington, D.C.-based National Organization for Marriage, which was involved in ballot measures that overturned same-sex marriage in California and Maine.
Silk expects the other side will spend $4 million to $7 million.
"We take them at their word, and we need to dig deep," he said.
Same-sex marriage is legal in New York, Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont and Washington, D.C.
Maryland legalized gay marriage this year, but it's poised to have a public vote this fall. In Maine, voters again will decide on an initiative to approve same-sex marriage. And in Minnesota, voters will decide whether to pass a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage.