It has been less than seven months since our neighbor to the north conferred on gay and lesbian couples the same rights and privileges through marriage as their straight counterparts. Although Canada has long been known for its more liberal views than the United States, I’m not writing of Canada, but our fellow member of “America’s Heartland,” Iowa.
Since that day, several more states have begun pursuing gay marriage through a combination of Supreme Court rulings, legislative battles and executive decisions. Some measures have passed, while others have faltered. Although California and Maine repealed gay marriage in their states; New York, Washingon, DC and others have signaled a move in the opposite direction, and general trends show support increasing for gay and lesbian rights.
The word “marriage” can mean different things to different people. To some, it’s a Divine sanction from God that should only be defined by the union of “one man and one woman” for life. To others, it is a legal contract; meant to simplify the joining of two adults in a union that offers the prospect of joint credit, health care, property and inheritance. It can also be a social contract; unifying a couple as a symbol of love and commitment to one another. And yet to most of us, it is a multi-faceted combination of benefits both spiritual and governmental.
Although many conservatives and independents espouse a libertarian perspective on fiscal matters, when it comes to social issues, the opposite appears to be occurring. In regards to gay marriage, there are a number of economic benefits to gay citizens and their neighbors that we have already seen in the Northeast and Iowa, which will be easily duplicated in other states.
According to a 2008 article in The Boston Globe, gay marriage has pumped over $100 million into the Massachusetts economy, with $5 million coming from marriage license fees and sales and occupancy taxes.
In Iowa, the Williams Institute at UCLA has estimated that same-sex marriage will yield an estimated $5.3 million a year to the state’s coffers. The institute has also conducted in depth research on same-sex partnerships and their projected benefits to state governments throughout the country.
In 2008, there were roughly 7,700 gay couples in Iowa. Missouri, in contrast, has almost 20,000 gay couples. We can assume at a minimum (the Williams Institute admits it uses conservative estimates), that gay marriage would add to Missouri’s budget approximately $15 million through sales and income taxes.
This figure excludes the amount of money spent to build up small businesses that focus on wedding related planning and events. In addition to extra money from marriages themselves, there is a relative uptick in gay tourism to states that recognize same sex marriage.
US law reflects the belief that economic sharing and investment in marriage are beneficial to both the partners and to the larger society (Koppelman 2002). In contrast to what conservatives often argue, the recognition of same-sex marriage as equal endorses a continuation of their relationship through financial incentives and social support.
The Des Moines Register put out a survey in September. Did it find that Iowans were up in revolt? Had radical gays taken over schools and government? Of course not. It found that an overwhelming majority, 92% of Iowans, say gay marriage has brought no real change to their lives, while at the same time providing the state with economic benefits.
What these pioneering states should show us is that gay marriage is not the end of the world, but rather a positive change that provides a symbol of commitment and love to gay and lesbian couples, as well as a substantial benefit to the economies and budgets of those states. In 2004, Missouri voters overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment defining marriage as a union between one man and one woman. Missouri could learn something from its neighbor to the North.