Tech Billionaires Shell Out Big in Marriage Equality Fight

As the U.S. Supreme Court ponders decisions in two cases that could decide the fate of marriage equality in this country, a number of the tech industry's heaviest hitters have put their considerable resources into support of equal rights, mostly at the state level.

One of the highest-profile donations was the $2.5 million check written by Seattle-based Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos and his wife, MacKenzie, last year. (Read Jeff Bezos's IP profile.) The donation was in support of Washington United for Marriage, the group that funded Referendum 74. At the same time, two other Seattle tech billionaires, Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer, chipped in $100,000 each. Perhaps the donations worked, because Washington voters legalized same-sex marriage by a margin of more than 7%.

The Bezos donation was apparently triggered by an email from a former Amazon employee, Jennifer Cast. Cast, a lesbian mother of four, sent Bezos a note asking for $100,000 to $200,000 toward Referendum 74. Two days later, he replied to her, simply stating, "Jen, this is right for so many reasons. We're in for $2.5 million, Jeff and Mackenzie." Talk about your warm fuzzy moment. Cast reportedly had to read the email twice to believe what she was seeing.

Bezos, Gates, and Ballmer are not alone among tech billionaires in their support for marriage equality. In 2008, a number of them lent their support to the campaign against California's Proposition 8, which outlawed same-sex marriage when it was passed by voters. It is also one of the cases the Supreme Court is currently deliberating.

Back then, Larry Page and Sergey Brin (read Sergey Brin's IP profile) were vocal opponents of Proposition 8, and they combined to contribute $140,000 to the No On 8 campaign. In a Google company blog post before the vote, Brin wrote, "We hope that California voters will vote no on Proposition 8 — we should not eliminate anyone's fundamental rights, whatever their sexuality, to marry the person they love." Joining Brin and Page in support of No On 8 were Yahoo cofounders Jerry Yang and David Filo, Google CEO Eric Schmidt, Intuit Chairman Bill Campbell, eBay President Jeffrey Skoll, eBay cofounder Pierre Omidyar, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, former Cisco CEO John Morgridge, and venture capitalist Michael Moritz. In addition to providing financial support, they all signed a public petition asking Californians to "stand for equality."

Other openly gay tech billionaires, including Peter Thiel (read Peter Thiel's IP profile), a major backer of PayPal and Facebook, have a major stake in the outcome of the Supreme Court cases. Thiel has been a major funder of right-leaning LGBT group GOProud, and he recently took some heat from gay bloggers for a 2010 GOProud event he hosted at his New York home, hosted by Ann Coulter.

For Bezos's part, he's been largely applauded for standing up for everyone's right to love and marry whom they want, save the National Organization for Marriage (NOM), one of the largest opponents of same-sex marriage. NOM's criticisms grew especially loud as Jeff Bezos's $250 million purchase of the Washington Post was finalized this summer, with the organization expecting the Post's arguments for same-sex marriage to become totally one-sided. That, of course, hasn't occurred, and Bezos has made no comment regarding NOM's criticisms.