By Ben Schenkel
FORTUNE -- Where same-sex marriage is concerned, it's been an especially heated summer. Protests and counter-protests continue to simmer over Chick-fil-A president Dan T. Cathy's comments that his fast food chain supports a "biblical definition of the family unit."
At the same time, several high-profile executives are entering the debate, with marriage rights referenda set to appear on ballots this November in Washington, Minnesota, Maryland, and Maine. But the jury is still out on whether companies themselves will get involved -- similar to the way some have in recent years -- or if they'll sit this one out, as many conservative groups are hoping.
Recently, Amazon (AMZN) CEO Jeff Bezos announced that he and his wife had given $2.5 million out of their own pockets to advance the same-sex marriage cause in Washington state. Preceding them were Microsoft's (MSFT) founder Bill Gates and its current CEO Steve Ballmer. On June 29, they each donated $100,000 to the legalization campaign in the state. So did Microsoft itself, two months earlier, when it put $10,000 on the line. And at the end of May, a Starbucks (SBUX) LGBT affinity group donated $1,740 to the cause.
In most cases, it's rare for businesses to go public on a hot-button social issue, as it risks offending customers and shareholders. But in recent years, a growing number of corporations have taken stances on policies affecting gays and lesbians, more often with abstract endorsements than with actual donations.
Microsoft has a fairly long history of LGBT activism. In fact, the tech giant became the first member of the Fortune 500 to offer equal benefits to its LGBT employees back in 1993. It consistently leads in the Human Rights Campaign's annual scorecard of corporate LGBT policies. And in 2009, the company gave $100,000 from its own coffers to the movement to pass Referendum 71, establishing domestic partnerships, according to public documents. Those records also show similar, but smaller, donations from Oregon-based Nike (NKE). And back in 2008, Apple (AAPL) reportedly poured $100,000 into the unsuccessful effort to block Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriages in California (a federal appeals court overturned the ban in February). More
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