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Study: Same-sex marriage ban hurts economy

Saint Louis, Mo. — A study by a UCLA-based think tank says Missouri is missing out on about $36 million in economic activity for its ban on same-sex marriages. The Williams Institute, an independent think tank in California studying sexual orientation and gender identity, released the study.

Estimating the Economic Boost of Marriage for Same-Sex Couples in Missouri says that the state would bring in more than $23 million in wedding arrangements and tourism in the first year alone if the state were to reverse its 2004 change to the state’s constitution defining marriage as between one man and one woman. According to the 2010 census, Missouri has more than 10,000 same-sex couples, more than half of whom would be expected to be married in the first three years the state permitted their marriage.

The study comes only a few months after St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay directed the city’s recorder of deeds to issue a handful of marriage licenses for gay couples in direct conflict with Missouri’s ban. Slay said at the time that the move was an attempt to spark a legal battle over the state’s gay marriage prohibition. The issuing of licenses to 4 couples did just that, and oral legal arguments are expected to begin in court later this year.

Thirty-one states have enacted laws prohibiting same-sex marriage, but in the short time since the Supreme Court case, United States v. Windsor, more than a dozen of those bans have been knocked down by courts. The upswell of courts overturning state bans on same sex marriage — many doing so by gleefully citing Justice Antonin Scalia’s Windsor dissent predicting the trend — has Slay and other LGBT advocates hoping to add Missouri to the list of states changing course on same-sex marriage.

The state’s political makeup has already shifted on the issue. While the constitutional amendment passed a decade ago with a whopping 71 percent of the vote, LGBT issues are trending positively in almost every part of the country. Gov. Jay Nixon, a conservative Democrat, famously came out in support of same-sex marriage last summer in a move to change Missouri’s tax filing law, a move that angered at least one Republican enough to push for impeachment.

Attorney General Chris Koster, a former Republican who switched parties after the Missouri ban became law, said he personally supported the cause of same-sex marriage, but would uphold his duties as the state’s lawyer and defend the ban in court against Slay’s court challenge. Koster’s support of the issue is perhaps most telling given his gubernatorial ambitions in 2016.

Missouri has also seen a legislative push by Democrats in the minority the past few years to add sexual orientation and gender identity to the state’s non-discrimination statutes. Under current Missouri law, it is perfectly legal to fire or evict someone based on their sexual orientation.

A state, which embraces marriage equality, will be more attractive as both a permanent residence and a tourist destination, according to the study, which was contracted by PROMO, the state’s largest LGBT advocacy organization.

“These key findings, thanks to the Williams Institute, show that the affect of marriage on Missouri’s economy could positively impact the lives of many in this state. Right now, Missourians are traveling to neighboring states and across the country to be married, which means dollars are being spent elsewhere. We have beautiful spaces across Missouri to be married, and ALL Missourians deserve the opportunity to be wed right here in their home state,” PROMO Executive Director, AJ Bockelman said in a statement.

Key findings of the Williams Institute study:

• 5,279 in-state same-sex couples would choose to marry in the three years following an opening of marriage to same-sex couples in Missouri.

• The total spending on wedding arrangements and tourism by resident same-sex couples and their guests would add an estimated $36.3 million to the state and local economy of Missouri over the course of three years, with a $23.2 million boost in the first year alone.

• This economic boost would add $2.75 million in sales tax revenue to state and local coffers.

• Spending related to same-sex couples’ wedding ceremonies and celebrations would create 312 to 936 jobs in the tourism and recreation sector for Missouri.