A booming wedding industry could swell Maryland's budget by millions if gays were permitted to wed, according to a university report released yesterday.
The study, by UCLA School of Law's Williams Institute on Sexual Orientation Law and Public Policy, estimates that spending on gay nuptials could top $280 million the first three years, generating $14 million in tax revenue during that time.
While the state would see some reductions in other tax revenue, including income, transfer and inheritance taxes, the study concludes that extending marriage benefits to gays could result in a net gain of $3.2 million a year.
"The discussion on same-sex marriage is often about rights and benefits," said Lee Badgett, research director at the Williams Institute and director of the Center for Public Policy and Administration at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. "What we wanted to add to this was that marriage is not only about rights and benefits, it's about obligations and responsibilities. This is a way of seeing how those two sides have budgetary impact."
Paired with a census snapshot of Maryland's gay population, the report offers an economic prism through which to view the contentious same-sex marriage debate, a battle often waged on religious and social grounds.
Both sides of the debate are preparing for a battle in the General Assembly starting in January. In September, Maryland's highest court upheld the state law defining marriage as between a man and woman. Several lawmakers plan to push legislation to legalize same-sex marriage, while pledge to back a proposal to ban it in the state's constitution.
The Williams Institute report not only makes a fiscal argument for extending marriage rights to Maryland's growing number of same-sex couples. It also assumes state lawmakers will permit out-of-state residents to marry here. The study estimates that half of Maryland's 15,600 same-sex couples would marry, and that many more would flock here to tie the knot, tourism dollars in hand.
Demographers analyzed census data, tax forms and tourism reports to come up with the findings. They have produced similar reports revealing an economic boon to states such as New Jersey, California and Massachusetts. Authors say the studies are consistent with results from other sources, notably the Congressional Budget Office, which in 2004 found that recognizing same-sex marriage would produce a net gain of about $1 billion nationwide over 10 years.
Anirban Basu, chairman and chief executive of Sage Policy Group Inc., a Baltimore economic and policy consulting firm, said that extending marriage to gays would produce a limited economic benefit.
"Allowing that segment of society to wed would also induce more of them to purchase homes and maintain permanent living arrangements," he said. "If one can dispassionately look at the economics, one would agree that marriage is good for the economy. So why wouldn't it be the case that expanding marriage would be good for the economy?"
Dan Furmansky, executive director of the advocacy group Equality Maryland, said the findings will likely come up for debate during the legislative session.
"The interesting part about having tangible legislation this year for the first time is the conversation has to shift to real public policy issues," he said. "The economic experts say this is good for Maryland, the child welfare experts say this is good for the children, and the legal experts say it's the right way to end discrimination."
Doug Stiegler, executive director of the Family Protection Lobby, said economics are irrelevant and that same-sex marriage is a purely social concern.
"Three million is such an insignificant number compared to the other social and cultural impacts on families and children," he said. "You are going to spend more than that if we have a heavy snowfall in January."
But to Maryland's same-sex couples - particularly the 21 percent who are raising children - finances are key, said Badgett. The median income of same-sex households with children was $41,000, about 45 percent lower than that of married couples at $75,000, the study found.
Badgett said same-sex couples are more likely than married couples to have one parent who stays home to raise children.
"The married parents have a big advantage - they have more income and they have access to the status that is tied to employment and tax benefits," she said.
Lisa Kebreau and her partner, Mikkole Mozelle, of Prince George's County say they have spent thousands for the legal paperwork to ensure that their children are protected if one parent were to die. Same-sex couples are not legally entitled to a partner's pension, health insurance or Social Security survivors benefits.
"We know that in the back of our minds, we have to make sure we have available financial resources, just in case," said Kebreau, a plaintiff in Maryland's marriage case. "Money, in a sense, is power."
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