Ballmer, Gates back gay marriage

They each donate $100,000 to effort to defend new state law

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OLYMPIA — Microsoft Corp. CEO Steve Ballmer and co-founder Bill Gates have each donated $100,000 to the campaign supporting the state’s new gay marriage law, which faces a referendum vote in November.

Zach Silk, campaign manager for Washington United for Marriage, said Monday that the checks were cut Friday and were reported to the state Public Disclosure Commission on Monday afternoon.

“It’s going to make a tremendous difference,” Silk said. “It’s very important for us to have that broad support from business leaders and companies themselves.”

Also Friday, Microsoft general counsel Brad Smith made a $25,000 donation to the campaign. Microsoft is just one of several prominent Pacific Northwest businesses that have expressed their support for same-sex marriage, including Amazon, Starbucks Corp. and Nike Inc.

Referendum 74 was certified for the ballot last month after gay marriage opponents turned in more than 240,000 signatures, far more than the minimum of 120,577 valid voter signatures required.

The referendum seeks to overturn the law passed earlier this year allowing same-sex marriage in the state. That law was passed by the Legislature and signed by Gov. Chris Gregoire in February. The law was supposed to take effect June 7 but was put on hold once the signatures were turned in. R-74 asks voters to either vote “yes” to uphold the law, or “no” to overturn it.

Microsoft spokesman Jeff Reading said he couldn’t comment on personal campaign contributions made by any Microsoft employee, but noted that the company’s support of same-sex marriage has been clear for months. In January, the company publicly supported the measure that ultimately was passed by the Legislature, and in April, Microsoft donated $10,000 to the campaign to uphold the law.

“When we announced our support for the bill, we understood the very real possibility that it would be challenged at the ballot,” Reading said. “Microsoft’s contribution to the campaign is our company supporting marriage equality legislation through one last step in the process.”

Gay marriage supporters have been raising money for months to protect the law, as national groups, including the Washington, D.C.-based National Organization for Marriage, have said they’ll aggressively fight to strike it down. The National Organization for Marriage was involved in ballot measures that overturned same-sex marriage in California and Maine.

As of Monday, Washington United for Marriage had raised nearly $1.9 million for the campaign to fight back attempts to overturn the law. Preserve Marriage Washington has raised more than $130,000, according to the most recent numbers with the Public Disclosure Commission, though the money race is expected to heat up significantly in the coming months.