Illinois Marriage Equality Could Add $100 Million to State Economy: UCLA Study

Chicago Phoenix
By Tony Merevick
March 6, 2013

The Illinois economy could get a sizable boost from the legalization of same-sex marriage.

With the Illinois House poised to consider a bill that would legalize same-sex marriage any day now, new research issued Wednesday from the Williams Institute at the University of California Los Angeles indicates the state could see up to $103 million in new spending and the creation of new jobs if it chooses to extend full marriage rights to gay and lesbian couples.

The research comes on the same day Gov. Pat Quinn delivered the “most difficult budget” he’s ever made, a financial roadmap for 2014 in which state revenues are eaten up by public pensions — a crisis to the sum of $96 billion — and one in which classrooms receive less state funding.

“Marriage equality creates a measurable economic boost for the states that enact it,” said Angeliki Kastanis, Williams Institute Public Policy Fellow who created the study with M.V. Lee Badgett, Williams Institute Research Director and Professor of Economics at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

The study also predicts the state could take in up to $8.5 million in taxes from same-sex marriages.

“In a time of high unemployment rates and cash-strapped state and local budgets, extending marriage for same-sex couples will positively impact Illinois’ wedding and tourism industry, while bringing in much-needed tax revenue,” Kastanis said.

The state’s wedding and tourism industries will see the biggest stimulus from the law, the research concludes.

Wedding related businesses may bring in up to $74 million in increased revenue, while tourism agencies may see an increase of $29 million — mostly from guests who will travel from out of the state to attend the ceremonies and celebrations. The additional spending could create approximately 281 jobs, according to the study.

“Aside from the moral imperative for equal marriage, this study demonstrates that it is also an economic booster for our state,” said Rick Garcia, director of the Equal Marriage Illinois Project at The Civil Rights Agenda, in a statement to media. “States that have equal marriage have had a positive financial impact. With the current economic issues that Illinois is facing equal marriage could be a financial blessing.”

Over 50 state business leaders, including top executives from Groupon, Google and Navistar, signed an open letter to state lawmakers urging them to approve the bill because recognizing gay and lesbian marriages under the law will advance the state’s competitive position by attracting talented employees who come from all families.

Marriage equality will strengthen the workforce, attract skilled workers and bolster economic development, the businesses said.

The Williams Institute research is based on data from the 2010 U.S. Census, which found that 23,049 same-sex couples live in Illinois. Kastanis and Badgett predict that 50 percent, or 11,525 couples, will choose to marry within the first three years of marriage equality becoming law — about the same rate same-sex couples married in states where it is already legal.

Specifically, 64 percent of same-sex couples will marry in the first year, 21 percent in the second year and 15 percent in the third year, according to the research.

However, when considering couples who have already married in other states or are already in civil unions and don’t want to spend money on another celebration, the researchers noted a significantly smaller impact to the economy with a $54 million increase in spending and 147 new jobs.

But additional gains could come from out of state couples who might travel to Illinois to be married, Badgett said.

“Other states allowing same-sex couples to marry, such as Iowa, have experienced a big influx of couples from other states without marriage equality,” Badgett said. “Those couples would generate additional spending on wedding and tourism-related goods and services.”

The impending House vote is the final hurdle the bill faces before Quinn can sign it into law.