Why the U.S. should be scrambling to legalize same sex marriage in 2015

January 16, 2015 • Life & Culture

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In 2013, two landmark Supreme Court cases marked significant victories for same-sex marriage in the U.S., entitling same-sex couples to equal federal rights and, in essence, allowing for same sex-marriage in California.

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Photo by J Pat Carter, AP

Fast forward to 2015. On the first day of the new year, a federal judge ruled that the state of Florida must issue same-sex marriage licenses from January 6th onwards. At present, same-sex marriage is legal in 35 states and lifting of the ban in Florida will further quicken legislative changes in the coming months.

Apart from the immeasurable discursive, political, and emotional benefits for LGBT groups that such legislation holds, same-sex marriage has proved – time and time again – to be a catalyst for economic growth. Regardless of one’s personal views on the issue, numbers indeed speak louder than words in this case.

According to Lee Badgett, Ph.D., Research Director of the Williams Institute for Sexual Orientation Law and Public Policy at UCLA, the economic impact of same-sex marriage are threefold:

  1. Wedding spending – hotels, restaurants, florists, photographers, apparel, tourism, marriage license fees
  2. Government budgets – individuals are less likely in need of public assistance due to more family support
  3. Business in general – evidence for lower health costs among same-sex couples when they have the right to marry

In 2006, Forbes reported a potential annual growth of $16.8 billion in the $70 billion wedding industry, as manifested after several years, with the legalization of same-sex marriage. With a staggered growth in recent years, the potential is significant.

While the accuracy of these projections remains uncertain, as same-sex marriage remains disputed in a number of states, the economic boost experienced by states with legal same-sex marriage is evident. Connecticut with $16 million, Vermont with $5 million, and Iowa with $8 one year after legalization are just to name a few. Projected revenue after three years are even more staggering, with New Jersey at $15 million, Minnesota at $42 million, Oklahoma at $21 million, and California at $70 million.

In Massachusetts, the first state to legalize same-sex marriage, an estimated of $60 million was attributed to spending for same-sex weddings in the first year alone. Neighboring states, like Rhode Island, missed out on millions in revenue as a result of later legalization.

Going hand-in-hand with spending is a boost to the local tourism industry. According to the Williams Institute, an additional 2,000 jobs can be created in New York alone, where the state saw $260 million in revenues from same-sex marriage one year after its legalization. On the flip-side, growth in a local tourism industry likely means the loss of spending elsewhere. In this case, it is the home state of same-sex couples where they’re not allowed to wed.

Of course, the story doesn’t end here. Even with its legalization, the state cannot expect to retain all the business from its same-sex couples, especially with regards to the ones that have not made the move at this point. Constituents from such states are likely more conservative, which means that fostering an enabling community by local vendors can be a challenge.

It requires a careful balance of bringing about changes (e.g. gender-neutral marketing) while being respective of the fact that same-sex couples should be treated in the same way as heterosexual couples.

The wedding industry is, at its core, deeply involved in the same-sex marriage debate and is a key player is reversing negative discourse. But political and moral-based support aside, economic incentives for same-sex marriage for state-level policymakers should be enough to prompt its final push in 2015.


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