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Study: Same-sex marriage has positive economic impact for Iowa

Rod Boshart, The Gazette, Cedar Rapids, Iowa

Spending associated with weddings by couples of the same gender during the first year that same-sex marriages were legal in Iowa totaled at least $12 million and likely more, according to a study issued by a California research institute that was undertaken at the request of a state senator in Iowa.

Researchers at the Los Angeles-based Williams Institute reported that total spending on wedding arrangements and tourism by same-sex couples and their guests added generated an economic boost of between $12 million and $13 million to the state and local economies between April 2009 and April 2010. That spending likely also generated between $850,000 to $930,000 in tax revenue to state and local coffers.

Researchers noted that 1,015 couples who applied for Iowa marriage licenses during that 12-month period did not specify a gender on their applications, so the overall economic benefit could have been as high as $20 million and the tax revenue impact up to $1.5 million if all those marriages involved partners of the same gender.

“People spend a lot of money on this important day. We used very low estimates of how much these same-sex couples spent, but it adds up to significant new spending for Iowa’s wedding industry,” M. V. Lee Badgett, study co-author and research director of the Williams Institute, said in a statement.

Using state records, researchers noted that at least 2,099 same-sex couples married during the first year following the April 2009 Iowa Supreme Court decision to extend civil marriage rights to same-sex couples. Of the 2,099 marriages, 866 couples lived in Iowa, and 1,233 couples came from other states.

The top five contributors of non-resident couples were surrounding states in the Midwest. Illinois was the largest contributor, contributing 17 percent of all out-of-state couples that married in Iowa.

“Our study estimates that out-of-state same-sex couples alone spent $2.2 million on weddings in Iowa,” according to co-author Angeliki Kastanis, Public Policy Research Fellow at the Williams Institute. Out-of-town guests attending those weddings accounted for another $5.1 million in tourism expenditures based on a low-end estimate of six non-resident guests per each same-sex wedding held in Iowa, according to the study’s nine-page executive summary.

Iowa law requires a waiting period of three business days after applying in order to receive a marriage license.

Although couples have some options to circumvent the waiting period by requesting a waiver, Williams Institute researchers said it is possible that out-of-state same-sex couples spent up to an additional $1.6 million on tourism during their brief stay in Iowa.

The Iowa marriage data include an additional 1,015 couples who did not state their gender, thus researchers were unable to distinguish if those couples – 71 percent of which resided in Iowa — were same-sex or different-sex partners. If all 1,015 additional couples were indeed same-sex couples, an additional $7.4 million could have been added to the state and local economy, adding about $530,000 in additional tax revenue to the reported estimates, researchers concluded.

State Sen. Matt McCoy, D-Des Moines, an openly gay legislator who commissioned the study, said the report shows the positive economic effects of marriage equality in Iowa.

“In the years since Iowa recognized marriage equality, our opponents have consistently tried to undermine equality for Iowa families citing supposed ill-effects of marriage for same-sex couples,” McCoy said in a statement. “This report is hard proof that marriage equality has had a positive impact on our state and that the hard line and hurtful stance against equality by opponents holds no water.”

Troy Price, executive director of One Iowa, the state’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) organization, said the report demonstrates that “marriage equality had had, and continues to have, only a positive impact on our state.”

“These figures are more than dollars and cents, they represent people who are working today because of the historic Varnum ruling. Our opponents continue to try and take away marriage equality and erase the financial impact that marriage has on our communities and our state,” Price said in a statement. “But it begs the question – at a time when people are looking for work and every Iowan is hoping for stronger economic growth, why would we pass a discriminatory constitutional amendment that would hurt not only loving and committed gay and lesbian couples, but our fragile economy as well?”

According to the web site, the Williams Institute on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Law and Public Policy advances law and public policy through rigorous, independent research and scholarship, and disseminates its work through a variety of education programs and media to judges, legislators, lawyers, other policy makers, and the public.

©2011 The Gazette (Cedar Rapids, Iowa)

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