Billionaire Starbucks’ Howard Schultz took a risk going all in on same-sex marriage during a recent shareholder meeting, just as the Supreme Court gets ready to decide the future of DOMA. He’s in good company. Meet the many billionaire backers of equal rights. Many of his fellow members of the Forbes 400 rich list have not just spoken out in support of equal marriage rights, but opened their considerable wallets.
The Seattle-based Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos and his wife MacKenzie cut a check for $2.5 million to Washington United for Marriage, His donation helped secure a victory and same-sex marriage was legalized in November by a margin of 7.4%.
Fellow Seattle-area billionaires and Microsoft co-founders Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer also gave $100,000 each in support of same sex marriage.
it was an email from a former Amazon employee from the company’s early days that prompted Bezos and his wife to publicly back equal rights. Jennifer Cast, a lesbian mother of four, sent Bezos a note last Sunday asking for $100,000 towards supporting same sex marriage. She received a reply two days later confirming his support and $2.5 million donation.
As my colleague Ryan Mac has reported, Silicon Valley’s tech billionaires have been vocal equal rights supporters as far back as 2008 and California’s Proposition 8.
That year, Google cofounders Larry Page and Sergey Brin publicly opposed Prop 8, the California voter initiative banning same-sex marriage. The two Google leaders contributed a combined $140,000 to the campaign.
Billionaire tech titans who joined Page and Brin backing same sex marriage included Yahoo cofounder Jerry Yang, then-Google CEO Eric Schmidt, eBay founder Pierre Omidyar, former eBay president Jeffrey Skoll, former Cisco CEO John Morgridge and venture capitalist Michael Moritz and undisclosed amount was donated.
Billionaire media mogul David Geffen, who is openly gay, also backed the movement, giving $100,000 to the campaign.
Other openly gay billionaires who’ve long backed the legalization of same-sex marriage include Jon Stryker, heir to the Stryker Corp. medical supply fortune. Stryker gave $602,000 in 2010 to the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund.
Peter Thiel, the PayPal and Facebook billionaire, is also gay and has helped fund right-leaning LGBT group GOProud. In 2010, he hosted a GOProud event at his New York home that caused some consternation on the gay blogosphere for its host, Ann Coulter, who isn’t exactly known for her liberal views on marriage rights.
Sen. Rob Portman did earlier this month, become backers of equal rights as a show of solidarity to his gay sons and daughters.
Perhaps the most prolific donor to the cause is not particularly well-known outside New York finance circles: hedge fund billionaire Paul Singer, who has given more than $10 million and counting.
Singer avoids the limelight more so than Bezos, but agreed to talk to the NYT’s Frank Bruni last year when he launched a pro-gay rights super PAC. The Republican billionaire pledged $1 million to start the group, and told Bruni his commitment stems from a cause close to home. He has a gay son, who married his partner in Massachusetts in 2o04.
Another billionaire backer of equal rights: Peter Lewis of insurance giant Progressive. Lewis himself is progressive in nature as well as name as the country’s highest-profile billionaire supporter of marijuana legalization. His son Jonathan is gay and a major Democratic fundraiser who gave $250,000 to the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund in 2008.
Real estate developer and conservative political donor Steven Roth is another billionaire with a personal stake in the issue: like Lewis and Singer, he has a gay son. He and wife Daryl both gave $16,800 to support the campaigns
The list is endless
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