An Economic Boost From Gay Marriage

Same-sex marriage is expected to add millions to California coffers.

A wedding cake with statuettes of two men is seen during the demonstration in West Hollywood, California, after the decision by the California Supreme Court to effectively greenlight same-sex marriage.
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SAN FRANCISCO—With less than a week to go before same-sex couples will be allowed to legally marry in California, the upcoming wedding season isn't likely to ease the consciences of conservatives, but a new study (.pdf) indicates that it will provide a significant boost to the state's economy. In a paper posted this week by the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law, researchers predict that same-sex marriages will bring nearly $700 million to the California wedding industry and pump almost $65 million in new revenue into the state budget over the next three years.

Basing their estimates on marriage and spending rates in other states, the authors, Brad Sears, an adjunct professor of law at UCLA, and Lee Badgett, an economics professor at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, predict that approximately half of the 103,000 same-sex couples living in the state will get married in the next three years. Nearly 70,000 same-sex couples from other states, they predict, will come here to marry. Most same-sex-marriage advocates believe those are conservative estimates not only of how many same-sex couples there are in the state but of how much enthusiasm there is among gay and lesbian couples nationwide to make their unions official. As more couples tie the knot, Sears and Badgett believe the combination of marriage license fees, increased state and local tax revenues, and the attendant boost in tourism spending by wedding guests is likely to create and sustain over 2,100 jobs in California.

A recent study (.pdf) conducted by the Congressional Budget Office found that if all 50 states and the federal government extended the rights and obligations of marriage to same-sex couples, gay weddings would generate almost $1 billion in revenue each year. According to other estimates, same-sex marriages could tack on more than $16 billion annually to the $70 billion wedding industry.

Almost as soon as the state Supreme Court declared a state law banning same-sex marriage unconstitutional last month, analysts saw the potential for an economic boomlet. Some said, half-jokingly, that the decision could help solve California's looming budget crisis, which continues to dog the state. "This will be a boon to the marriage industry," said Douglas Kmiec, a professor of law at Pepperdine University, who pointed out that while Massachusetts, the only other state where gay marriage is legal, restricts its unions to state residents, California marriage licenses are open to nonresidents, as well. Once the court's ruling goes into effect on June 16, gay and lesbian couples from across the country will be able to come to the state, get married, and return home.

Even Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has thrown his support behind the court's decision, has said same-sex marriage will be good for the state's economy. "You know, I'm wishing everyone good luck with their marriages, and I hope that California's economy is booming because everyone is going to come here and get married," he told a gathering in San Francisco on May 21. At the time, Aaron McLear, a Schwarzenegger spokesman, said the governor's remark was meant to be "tongue in cheek." "Certainly whenever folks come to California and spend money, it's a good thing, but we have not done any kind of study to determine what kind of economic impact this will have," McLear said.

That impact—and the looming political showdown—appear to be getting clearer. Last week, the secretary of state certified a ballot initiative, signed by more than 1.1 million Californians, that would amend the state constitution and ban same-sex marriage in the state. Both opponents and proponents of the initiative are reported to be raising millions for a fall advertising campaign.