Williams Institute Makes Virginia Estimate

UCLA think tank sees up to $60 million added to state's economy within first few years of marriage equality

A report released Tuesday by the Williams Institute, an LBGT-focused policy think tank at the UCLA School of Law, says that extending marriage to same-sex couples in Virginia could generate up to $60 million.

According to the 2010 U.S. Census, 14,244 same-sex couples live in Virginia. Of those couples, the Williams Institute estimates that 50 percent would choose to marry in the first three years after same-sex marriage is allowed in Virginia, a pattern observed in Massachusetts and other states with marriage equality. The Williams Institute study estimates that nearly 5,000 marriages would occur in the first year alone, generating an estimated $38 million.

The LBGT-rights organization Equality Virginia jumped on the new study, issuing its own statement calling for marriage equality in the commonwealth.

”This report clearly shows that allowing lesbian and gay couples to marry in Virginia is not only the right thing to do, but would also have a positive impact on our economy,” said James Parrish, the executive director of Equality Virginia.

Another finding from the Williams Institute’s report is that existing marriages – same-sex Virginia couples legally married elsewhere – have likely already cost the state tens of millions of dollars in spending and more than $1 million in tax revenue. The report estimates that direct spending by resident same-sex couples on wedding plans would add an estimated $39 million to $50 million to the Virginia economy during the first three years after marriage equality is legalized. Out-of-state wedding guests are estimated to bring in $8 million to $10 million over those first three years.

Wedding arrangements and tourism, Williams estimates, would account for $46 million to $60 million during that period, with $30 million to $38.5 million generated in the first year that same-sex marriage was legal. That increased spending is predicted to add $2.5 million to $3.2 million in tax revenues to state and local coffers, and generate approximately 459 to 595 new jobs related to wedding-related businesses and tourism.

A spokesman for the Family Foundation, a conservative policy think tank that opposes same-sex marriage and has been influential in lobbying Virginia lawmakers to oppose any expansion of LGBT rights, was not immediately available for comment.

The release of the Williams Institute report comes as the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit is preparing to hear oral arguments in May in the case of Bostic v. Schaefer, a case challenging Virginia’s constitutional Marshall-Newman amendment, which prohibits same-sex marriage and bans the recognition of any relationship or contract between same-sex couples that attempts to mirror marriage. A federal judge ruled in February that the ban was unconstitutional, prompting defenders of the ban to appeal the decision to the Fourth Circuit.

In the run-up to the Fourth Circuit’s decision, Equality Virginia is organizing ”CookOUTs for Marriage Equality,” gatherings of married same-sex couples designed to share stories of couples harmed by the marriage ban, to demonstrate there is widespread support for changing the law to allow same-sex couples to marry, and to show solidarity with the plaintiffs challenging the marriage ban. Both a Quinnipiac poll from March of this year and a Washington Post poll from May 2013 show majorities of Virginians support allowing same-sex couples to legally wed.

”Our ban on marriage is out-of-step with the majority of Virginians who support marriage equality,” Parrish said in a statement. ”The ban is not only hurting loving lesbian and gay couples in Virginia – it is also hurting our economy. This report shows that all Virginians would benefit from marriage equality.”

John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com

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