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The cost of gay marriage – in dollars and cents

As states like California grapple over gay marriage, New England has found that it can be a small fillip to the economy.

By Kathryn PerryContributor to The Christian Science Monitor / May 27, 2009

Provincetown, Mass.

Maghi Geary might have some peculiar advice for Californians: Gay marriage is good for business. The co-owner of Provincetown Florist has 20 to 30 weddings booked this summer, and the reason for that decent return is evident in the next customer who walks through the door – a lesbian couple from Kansas desperately in need of some carnations for their wedding.

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Tuesday, the California Supreme Court made the most recent in a series of legislative and judicial decisions on gay marriage nationwide: It upheld Proposition 8, a measure that bans gay marriage in the state. But here in Massachusetts, gay marriage has been legal since 2003, and in Provincetown, more than 2,000 same-sex couples have tied the knot since then.

In some ways, this farthest fingernail of Cape Cod is emblematic of the economics of gay marriage: a big impact, but only at the margins.

Massachusetts estimates that gay marriage has added money to its coffers – but only about $37 million a year, or less than 1 percent of the annual state budget.

In the private sector, the wedding industry could grow by more than $16 billion if gay marriage were expanded to all 50 states, according to a 2004 study by Forbes magazine.

But Massachusetts' experience suggests that money would be concentrated in cities with a significant gay population, like Provincetown.

Yet critics say the talk of economic profit obscures a greater social cost. "It's the societal message that same-sex marriage sends – that children do not need a mother and a father," says Kevin Smith, executive director of New Hampshire's Cornerstone Policy Research, which opposes gay marriage.

"People on both sides of this issue want it to be passed or banned because of their moral beliefs," he says.

The economic aspects of gay marriage, however, are becoming clearer – particularly in New England. Of the five states that allow gay marriage, four are in New England. New Hampshire, too, is considering a bill to legalize it. Moreover, New England is home to three of the top six states when ranked by highest concentration of same-sex couples, according to a 2007 study by the Williams Institute at the University of California in Los Angeles.