Taking same-sex marriage to the bank

States enjoy financial fruits from allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry.

Published June 4, 2009 6:48PM (EDT)

Congratulations, New Hampshire! Here's yet another reason to be happy that Wednesday you became the sixth state to proudly legalize same-sex marriage. Equality, love, justice -- sure, sure, those are the essential reasons, but have you stopped to consider the cash?

Over the last five years, Massachusetts has gained $111 million in spending from gay and lesbian weddings, according to a new study published by the UCLA Law School's Williams Institute. Bring on the marriage industrial complex: All those bouquets, wedding singers and towering cakes add up. The researchers found that the average same-sex couple studied spent $7,000 on their wedding, with one in 10 spending over $20,000.

And let's not forget the money that the couples' parents, friends, siblings and other relatives spend to share the big day; researchers found that the guests of each couple generated an average of $1,600 in hotel tax revenue. As Newsweek reports, even back in 2004, no lesser body than the U.S. Congressional Budget Office theorized about the economic impacts of same-sex marriage, should it take off. The Office predicted that if such unions were legalized in all 50 states nearly $1 billion in tax revenues would be generated annually.

However, economists caution that all states that embrace same-sex marriage shouldn't expect to see Massachusetts-level bounty from same-sex marriage, simply because now there is more competition. After all, a lesbian couple in Vermont need not cross the border over to New Hampshire to tie the knot, since the brides can get married in their own state, thanks very much. 

Of course, opponents of same-sex marriage are unlikely to be swayed by such financial considerations. "I think it's irrelevant," Rev. Jason McGuire, legislative director of New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms, told Newsweek. "Marriage is more than just financial benefits. We shouldn't cheapen it by looking at it just as a financial commodity." 

No one is really arguing that states should legalize same-sex marriage purely as a form of economic development. (Note, here in broke California at least one legislator is arguing that marijuana should be legalized for the tax revenue, but that's another story.) Yet, during this hideous recession, it's a happy coincidence that states that are welcoming gays and lesbians into the institution of marriage also stand to get a financial boost, however modest, from doing so. 

Let them eat cake! 


By Katharine Mieszkowski

Katharine Mieszkowski is a senior writer for Salon.

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