If Texas grants marriage equality to same-sex couples, money spent on wedding arrangements and tourism by resident same-sex couples and their guests could add an estimated $181.6 million to the state and local economies over the first three years, according to a report released this week by the University of California, Los Angeles.
Researchers at UCLA's Williams Institute, a national think tank dedicated to conducting independent research on sexual orientation, gender identity law and public policy, found that a majority of the money to be added — approximately $140.8 million — would come from same-sex wedding costs alone. The average wedding in the United States now costs a record-breaking $29,858, according to a survey of 13,000 brides by wedding website The Knot.
The study predicts 23,200 same-sex couples — half of the 46,401 couples estimated to be living in Texas according to 2010 census data — would choose to marry in the three years following a Texas extension of gay marriage rights. In the first year following legalization alone, same-sex couples could add $116.2 million to state and local economies through wedding expenses and tourism. Additionally, the report says wedding-related spending would add $14.8 million in sales tax revenue to state and local coffers.
"Although the injustice of denying the basic right of marriage to people based on their sexual orientation cannot be quantified, the economic damage of doing so is."
While the financial impact of legalizing same-sex marriage would benefit state and local economies, the benefits don't end there. The study estimates that spending associated with same-sex couples' wedding ceremonies and related celebrations would generate between 523 to 1,570 full- and part-time jobs in Texas.
Texas Sen. Jose Rodriguez from El Paso, known for supporting gay marriage, asked the Williams Institute to conduct the study in order to quantify the impact of legalizing same-sex marriage in the Lone Star State.
"Although the injustice of denying the basic right of marriage to people based on their sexual orientation cannot be quantified, the economic damage of doing so is," Rodriguez said in a media release, according to the Dallas Business Journal. "As a legislator, I was particularly interested in the economic impact on tourism, small businesses, and tax revenue in our state.
"The results are clear: legalizing same-sex marriage would provide a substantial boost to our state's economy."
The Williams Institute's findings were based on studies and tax revenue data from other states that allow same-sex marriage, such as Massachusetts, which saw about $111 million added over the first four years after legalizing gay marriage.
Researchers also conducted studies on other states that do not currently allow same-sex marriages with estimates showing that legalization could bring between $23 million and $53 million to Nevada, between $65 million and $92.1 million to Pennsylvania, $61.9 million to Arizona and $39 million to Indiana within the first three years.
Although the figures in the new report are only estimates, some experts say that legalizing gay marriage would be beneficial to Texas' economy.
"It makes sense that if same-sex couples can get married here, then they're going to be spending money," Bud Weinstein, an economist for the Cox School of Business at Southern Methodist University, tells the Dallas Business Journal. "Texas has a $750 billion economy, so $181 million is a percent of a percent, but certainly it would be a shot in the arm for those who make a living off planning weddings."
Weinstein also highlights the fact that legalizing same-sex marriage could have other economic benefits, such as drawing gay and lesbian workers and entrepreneurs to the state.
"To some extent the ban on gay marriage drives productive people out of Texas and causes an economic loss," Weinstein says. "The flip side of that argument is that if Texas allowed gay marriage, we might actually attract more creative, productive people who might contribute to the economy."
While it may make good economic sense to legalize same-sex marriage in Texas, Gov. Rick Perry has been a vocal opponent of gay rights and recently compared homosexuality to alcoholism.
Communications director for the Texas Conservative Coalition Brent Connett says the economic boost provided by legalizing gay marriage is nothing more than a drop in the bucket for a state with a GDP exceeding $1.5 trillion in 2013 and sales tax collections of $25.9 billion.
"Financial gain, whether to the state or private businesses, has nothing to do with a discussion on marriage policy, making this study completely irrelevant to any public policy debates," Connett tells the Dallas Business Journal. "In addition, the figures estimated by this report are inconsequential when weighed against the sizable and successful Texas economy. These figures must be contextualized."