Is there a Gay Marriage Stimulus?

Joe Mathews
Connecting California Columnist and Editor, Zócalo Public Square, Fellow at the Center for Social Cohesion at Arizona State University and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (UC Press, 2010)

The California Supreme Court has just ruled, 4-3, against California law that bars same-sex marriage. This is a profound moral and personal question for people, and I respect views on both sides. (To put my own bias on the table, my reaction to the ruling was to feel joy for people who may now be able to marry those they love. The right to marry seems to be crucial to any notion of individual freedom).

But moral choices have economic dimensions. And one question the ruling triggered in my mind is economic. I don’t mean to be crass, but could California profit through the legalization of same-sex marriage? Would the state become a draw for gay couples? Would those couples bring more wealth to the state, start more businesses, add to the tax base? Or do they consume services that negate that effect?

Asking economic questions about difficult social issues is not out of bounds. (Think back to the initiative campaign about stem cell research, and the argument that by permitting this research, California would gain economic advantages). It’s also worth noting that, in defending civil unions and domestic partnerships, policymakers have often argued that a ban on such unions or domestic partnerships would hurt businesses in the state or city considering the ban, because companies wouldn’t be able to recruit the best employees, regardless of sexual orientation.

By the same token, I wonder: would California and its businesses gain a unique advantage by being one of the few places that gays and lesbians could marry? I think it would be great to see a serious, hard-number study to find out the answer. (If someone already has done one, please let me know).

And if gay marriage would be good for the California economy, the public needs to hear that argument. It’s highly relevant at a time of budget crisis and recession, and with an initiative campaign this fall to add a ban on same-sex marriage to the state constitution.

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