If same-sex marriage survives the challenge expected at the ballot box this fall, money spent on weddings and related costs such as catering could boost Maryland’s economy by more than $90 million per year, according to economic analysts.
“That’s a significant economic impact,” said Mark Yost, president of the Maryland Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce. Yost was one of many who testified in favor of same-sex marriage before legislative committees during this year’s General Assembly session.
Maryland became the eighth state to legalize same-sex marriage in March, but opponents have vowed to put the issue before voters in the fall.
Not only would the state net about $3.6 million in sales and lodging tax revenue, but over three years wedding-related businesses could see as much as $21 million per year from same-sex couples living in Maryland and another $73 million from couples traveling from out-of-state to get married, Yost testified.
The chamber’s estimates draw on research from the Williams Institute, a think tank based at the University of California, Los Angles School of Law.
During the past nine years, the institute has prepared numerous reports estimating the fiscal impact of legalizing same-sex marriage in areas including Massachusetts, Iowa, Washington, D.C., and even Australia. Analysts use census data regarding the number of same-sex couples living in an area and the number of those that identify as spouses, average wedding costs, marriage license rates and tax rates to draw their conclusions.
The Maryland Comptroller’s Office does not have data on the possible economic impact in the state, which has more than 10,000 unmarried same-sex households, according to census data. But the state Department of Legislative Services also has predicted an increase in wedding spending and related tourism.
In the fiscal note that accompanied the Civil Marriage Protection Act this year, department analysts said the law could have a meaningful impact on wedding-related small businesses and tax revenues.
State analysts also pointed out that localities could end up paying more to extend health benefits to employees’ spouses, but acknowledged that many jurisdictions already provide benefits to same-sex partners.
But opponents of same-sex marriage argue that any economic bump only would be temporary.
Furthermore, the overall number of same-sex couples getting married would be relatively small, said Derek McCoy, director of the Maryland Marriage Alliance, which is leading the petition drive to get the law placed on the ballot in November.
Several states, including Vermont, where same-sex marriage became legal in 2009, and Washington, D.C., which followed in 2010, don’t yet have detailed assessments on the economic impact, and referred The Gazette to the Williams Institute’s work.
“In general, it’s been extremely positive,” said Lawrence Miller, Vermont’s secretary of commerce and community development.
Although many of the reports have been projections made before legalization, the institute has used data from Iowa and Massachusetts to assess the actual impact.
In the year following Iowa’s legalization in 2009, 866 same-sex couples from the state and another 1,233 couples from out-of-state received marriage licenses, spending between $12 million and $13 million and generating as much as $930,000 in state and local tax revenue, according to a report published in December.
“You definitely hear about how local bakers and florists, wedding planners and hotels [were] all getting booked up very quickly,” said M.V. Lee Badgett, research director for the Williams Institute and professor of economics at the University of Massachusetts, adding that there were reports in Iowa of busloads of out-of-state couples arriving to get married. “The anecdotes are very compelling,” she said.
In 2009, after same-sex marriage had been legal in Massachusetts for five years but before the state began granting marriage licenses to out-of-state couples, the institute reported that more than 12,000 same-sex couples in the state had married, about half the total number of same-sex couples in the state.
The state received an economic boost of about $111 million, according to Badgett.
“On the one hand, it’s business as usual [in Massachusetts]. The sky didn’t fall, as many people predicted,” said Kara Suffredini, executive director of MassEquality, a Boston-based activist group. On the other hand, new businesses have emerged that cater to same-sex marriages, including wedding expos, Suffredini said.
“Businesses have known, for decades longer than elected officials have, that equality is good for businesses,” Suffredini said.
Delaying implementation, however, could drive down the revenue figures for Maryland. As more states legalize same-sex marriage, couples would have less incentive to come to Maryland for their weddings, Badgett predicted.