By Kelli B. Grant
President Obama’s endorsement of same-sex marriage today may prove to be a fiscal as well as a social and civil-rights issue. In an election likely to focus on the nation’s sluggish economic growth and high unemployment, experts say gay marriage has financial implications as well.
Marriage policy may be governed by the states, but if the right of same-sex couples to wed were granted nationally, the policy could generate a substantial economic boost, says M.V. Lee Badgett, research director of the Williams Institute for Sexual Orientation Law and Public Policy at UCLA. A 2009 study the organization conducted posited that allowing same-sex couples to marry in Vermont would result in an extra $30.6 million for the state over three-years. Another study earlier this year estimated that New Jersey would have generated economic gains of $48 million to $119 million over three years. (Governor Chris Christie vetoed that bill.)
Experts say much of those increases would come from short-term spending on the weddings themselves: the thousands – if not tens of thousands – of dollars couples splurge on celebrating their nuptials, says Badgett. Additional jobs might also be created in the wedding and tourism industries, she says.
Some experts say same-sex couples could also inject more money back into the economy over time, due to long-term savings from filing joint tax returns, and by avoiding taxes on employer-provided benefits. “People would save money by not having to hire lawyers to create documents giving them some kind of connection to each other,” she says.
That said, legalizing same-sex marriage would likely mean higher costs in other areas. For examples, experts point out that the cost to businesses of providing health insurance to married same-sex couples would increase.
Legalizing same-sex marriage on a federal level would also affect government agencies and programs, with revenue losses in some areas, say experts. For example, the government would likely pay out more in Social Security spousal and survivor benefits, says Richard Ebeling, a professor of economics at Northwood University in Midland, Mich. But it’s unclear if that would mean fewer Americans are eligible for Medicaid, welfare or other programs that assess a spouse’s income and assets, he says. A 2004 study from the Congressional Budget Office expected that the losses and gains in both tax revenue and program expenses would largely even out, with the government saving $1 billion annually over a 10-year period.