When “The Wedding March” plays, cash registers ring.
Marriage can bring bliss and marriage can bring bucks, generating millions in revenues for local and state governments, and millions more for businesses. A new study estimates that legalizing gay marriage in New Jersey would generate $15.1 million in new government revenues over a three-year period and pump $200 million into the state’s economy over the same time.
The study from the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law was released as New Jersey lawmakers were debating a marriage equality bill in late 2009. Gay couples can marry in five states — Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, Vermont and, as of Jan. 1, New Hampshire.
The New Jersey Senate, in a 20-14 vote, defeated the marriage measure Jan. 8, prompting gay rights advocates to vow to fight on in court.
The New Jersey Supreme Court ruled in 2006 that the state must treat same-sex couples equally and provide them the same benefits as heterosexual couples. Legislators responded with a civil unions law, but activists pressed on for marriage.
The court “ruled unanimously that same-sex couples are entitled to equality under the law, but civil unions do not provide equality,” said Kevin Cathcart of Lambda Legal, which argued the 2006 court case. “The Legislature has failed not only same-sex couples and their families, but the state constitution’s promise of equal protection.”
“Our side is going back to court to win marriage equality,” said Steven Goldstein of Garden State Equality, the New Jersey statewide LGBT group partnering with Lambda on a return to court.
Goldstein noted that while the legislative fight was lost, one outcome was a wealth of public testimony and research.
The public record includes the testimony of Williams Institute executive Brad Sears, who explained for the New Jersey Senate Judiciary Committee the economic benefits of enacting a marriage equality bill.
Marriage is a $70 billion a year industry in the United States, with spending for ceremonies, clothes, meals, parties, transportation, flowers, photographers and other services and goods.
The Wedding Report, an industry research group, puts the average cost of a wedding in the United States at $20,910.
“It’s not a recession-proof industry,” said Lawrence Taylor, a consultant with MarriageMarket Research. “But the industry remained strong throughout the worst of last year. And it will remain strong in the coming years. People don’t cheat this budget.”
Still, in analyzing the impact of legalizing same-sex marriage in New Jersey, Williams Institute researchers Sears, Christopher Ramos and M.V. Lee Badgett were conservative.
“The new report takes into account the changing legal landscape and the recession,” said Sears.
The researchers have used U.S. Census data and a survey of same-sex couples who married in Massachusetts to forecast the financial impact of legalizing marriage for gays in Washington, Maryland, New Mexico, California, Connecticut, Colorado, Vermont, Maryland and Iowa. Each analysis found that extending the rights of marriage to same-sex couples would positively impact a state’s budget and its businesses.
Legislative offices in Connecticut and Vermont and the comptroller in New York have reached similar conclusions in studying the issue.
As did the Office of the Chief Financial Officer in Washington, D.C., which recently said that same-sex weddings would generate as much as $22 million over the next three years. Washington’s city council voted in late December to legalize marriage for gay couples, though the measure still needs congressional approval.
In New Jersey, the wedding windfall would largely come from tourism — out-of-state couples traveling to the Garden State to exchange their vows.
In “The Impact of Extending Marriage to Same-Sex Couples on the New Jersey Budget,” Sears, Ramos and Badgett estimate:
Based on trends in other states, about half of the 19,494 same-sex couples living in New Jersey would legally marry if they could in the next three years.
Based on trends and New Jersey’s popularity as a tourism destination for New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Maryland and Delaware, an estimated 35,500 same-sex couples from other states would go to New Jersey to marry.
The researchers point to the spring of 2004, when couples from 46 states and eight countries traveled to San Francisco during the one month that the city issued marriage licenses to gay couples.
Spending by same-sex couples on weddings and tourism would generate about $15.1 million in revenues for state and local governments.
Spending would generate about $12.7 million in local and state sales tax revenues and occupancy fee revenues.
Spending would generate about $1.3 million over three years in marriage license fees.
Spending by same-sex couples on weddings would create and sustain more than 1,400 jobs.
Spending by same-sex couples on weddings would boost New Jersey’s economy by about $200 million over three years.
The researchers’ estimate does not include spending by relatives and friends on gifts, or expenses of guests traveling within New Jersey to attend weddings. The estimate also does not include the standard multiplier for tourist spending, which is that $1 spent in the state generates more than $2 in additional spending.
“If these factors are taken into account,” Sears said, “the total impact in New Jersey could be close to half a billion dollars.”
But, with the defeat of the marriage equality bill Jan. 8, the Williams Institute researchers will have to wait to test the validity of their projections.
And New Jersey Gov.-Elect Chris Christie, R — whose vow to veto any gay marriage bill that reached his desk prompted the rushed vote in the senate — will not rely on any revenues from same-sex marriages to help balance a state budget projected to be $9.5 billion in the red.