by Max Brantley
Jeff Bezos, the billionaire founder of Amazon.com, and his wife, MacKenzie, have agreed to donate $2.5 million to help pass a same-sex marriage referendum in Washington State, instantly becoming among the largest financial backers of gay marriage rights in the country.
The Arkansas Republican legislators and sympathizers who've been making a point of dining lately at Chick-fil-A and boasting about it at length on Twitter and Facebook will hurry today to order something from Amazon, right? Because they told us their patronage of the chicken chain was not a political statement about the chicken chain president's opposition to equal rights for gay people, only a statement in support of free speech.
Back to the reality-based world. Bezos apparently was moved to what could be a significant factor in a coming state referendum by an employee.
Mr. Bezos was approached via e-mail on Sunday by Jennifer Cast, one of Amazon’s earliest employees and a lesbian mother of four children who is now a fund-raising chairwoman of the pro-referendum effort.
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.”
People are the reality of this political debate. In Arkansas, you can gleefully dunk chicken nuggets in barbecue sauce and boast about it publicly as if it's all some big cosmic joke — brave, even, in the minds of some truly clueless. After all, no politician ever got beat in Arkansas for marginalizing sexual minorities. Many have suffered for standing up for minority rights.
But real people are on the other end of the juvenile japing and legal discrimination, a reality that is slowly, but inexorably changing public opinion. The truly brave are those who've come out and put a face on the issue, a face hard for co-workers, friends and relatives to ignore.
Times do change. I don't think you could find many people in Georgia today who'd want to bray on Twitter that they once ate nightly at Lester Maddox's Pickrick cafeteria (also famous for chicken) to, supposedly, demonstrate their belief in the 1st Amendment and opposition to the "thought police," as Rep. Ann Clemmer (named defendant in the successful lawsuit over legislative expense account cheating) put it so proudly yesterday on her Twitter account.
When they say it's not about sex or race or sexual orientation ....