Gay marriage good for family and economy
ABC Sydney Online
By: Lee Badgett
March 6, 2012
I have a simple message to Australian politicians currently considering same-sex marriage: the overseas experience has been an entirely positive one.
Marriage equality is a controversial issue with opponents of reform predicting dire consequences. But when social scientists like myself look closely at those societies where reform has occurred, what we see is very different.
First of all, the impact on same-sex couples and their families has been positive and profound.
A range of studies have shown that marriage leads to improved mental and physical health, findings cited the American Psychological Association when it endorsed marriage equality in August last year.
Allowing same-sex couples to marry has also produced similar positive effects in Massachusetts and the Netherlands, according to studies conducted by my colleagues and me at the Williams Institute at UCLA.
We found that over 70 per cent of married same-sex couples felt marriage had increased the level of commitment in their relationship.
The same percentage of same-sex partners felt more accepted and legitimised within their broader families and communities, with a common response being that being married made it easier for other people to understand and affirm their relationship.
Children, in particular, benefit from marriage equality. More than one quarter of the same-sex couples we surveyed were raising children and almost all of these couples said their children were happier and better off as a result of their marriage.
Many parents reported that their children felt more secure and protected. Others noted that their children gained a sense of stability. A third common response was that marriage allowed children to see their families as being validated or legitimated by society or the Government.
It was also clear from our research that lesbian and gay people see alternative ways of granting legal status, such as civil unions or registered partnerships, as inferior social and legal statuses.
Same-sex couples believe civil unions make a statement about the inferiority of gay people generally. They react with disdain to such unions as “a bit of nothing” and reject the dry accounting-like connotation of “registered partnership”.
This disdain for civil unions is reflected in take-up rates. In those US states that have allowed same-sex marriages, 30 per cent of same-sex couples marry in the first year. In states with civil unions, only 18 per cent take up the option.
In my research I have also looked at whether the dire predictions of the opponents of same-sex marriage have come to pass.
Take the fear that marriage as an institution will somehow be demeaned or degraded by same-sex marriages.
What I have found is that in those places with marriage equality heterosexual couples continue to marry at the same rate as before. Indeed, overall marriage rates have actually increased in some places.
Opponents of marriage equality also predict an increase in children born outside wedlock and divorce. But I found that where these trends can be seen, they existed long before same-sex couples could marry.
Finally, there is the economic impact of marriage equality, or what I call the icing on the wedding cake. Our research shows that same-sex weddings injected significant spending into local economies. For example, the wedding spend of same-sex couples in Massachusetts, which includes a large number of out-of-state couples, was $111 million from 2004 to 2009.
If we make the same calculation for Australia we can see that marriage equality would contribute $161 million in new spending to the national economy over three years.
To reach this figure we multiply the ABS Labor Force figure for the number of same-sex couples (33,000) by the percentage who say they will marry (54 per cent) by a quarter of the average heterosexual wedding spend (just over $9,000). All of these figures are conservative estimates so the final economic boost will probably be much higher.
We also calculate that if an Australian state government were to move first on the issue, it would gain a large slice of this wedding spend. In the case of Tasmania, we estimate the economic windfall to the state’s economy, particularly from out-of-state couples marrying, would be as high as $96 million over three years.
Overall, the experiences of marriage equality in the US and Europe suggest that when same-sex marriages are allowed same-sex couples and their families are strengthened, marriage is not weakened, and the economy benefits.
As parliament moves toward debating marriage equality in the next few months I urge Australian politicians to put rhetoric aside and look at what has actually happened overseas.
When they do they will see Australia can only gain from this timely reform.