Texas could add $180 million to its economy over three years if it allowed same-sex couples to marry, according to a study from the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law released Wednesday.
The study predicts that more than 23,000 same-sex couples in Texas would marry within three years if the state allowed them to. The legalization of gay marriage would mean a surge in gay weddings, the study estimates, creating a nearly $15 million boost to sales tax revenue over three years. The economic impact would likely be greater if Texas extended marriage rights to gay couples ahead of neighboring states like Louisiana and Oklahoma, because the state could become a wedding destination for same-sex couples, said Christy Mallory, one of the study's authors. But chances are slim that conservative Texas lawmakers would allow same-sex marriage unless the courts force states to do so.
The report, which applies Texas population data to a model based on states where gay marriage has been legalized, provides a financial argument for same-sex marriage, said Kevin Nix, a spokesman for Freedom to Marry, a gay rights group.
"There is a fiscal component, and there is also a families component," he said. “Allowing gay people to marry is actually a conservative value. It’s about limited government and it’s about stronger families.”
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Gay marriage opponents have a different view. Jonathan Saenz, executive director of the socially conservative group Texas Values, said the study used a model that wouldn't apply to Texas.
"For 10 straight years, Texas has been ranked as the top state for business. It's no surprise that Texas has also defined marriage as between one man and one woman in its constitution during these same 10 years, since 2005," Saenz said. "California, a state that performs homosexual marriages, is ranked as one of the five worst states for business in 2014. Case closed."
Mallory said business rankings "take into account a variety of factors that contribute to the state’s overall economy, and do not negate our findings that marriage would boost spending in the wedding and tourism industries."
Texas voters overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment in 2005 that banned gay marriage.
But in the intervening years, gay rights advocates in Texas and nationally have gained momentum. That was perhaps most visible in Texas in February, when a federal judge in San Antonio struck down the state’s gay marriage ban. Presiding Judge Orlando Garcia stayed the effect of his ruling, meaning same-sex couples are still not permitted to get married.
Gay marriage remains a polarizing social issue in Texas. The state’s Democratic Party has called for the complete repeal of laws that deny marriage rights to same-sex couples. But the Republican Party, which dominates state politics, supports marriage “only between a natural man and a natural woman,” and this year it endorsed “reparative therapy” for people “seeking healing and wholeness from their homosexual lifestyle.” The therapy has been dismissed by the American Psychological Association as having a "serious potential to harm" young people.
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Gov. Rick Perry received heated criticism over a recent comment he made comparing homosexuality to alcoholism at a San Francisco event. Perry did not apologize, but he told reporters a week later that he had “stepped right in it,” and he stressed the need "to be a really respectful and tolerant country, to everybody."
Legislative proposals to lift the state's same-sex marriage ban have seen a quick demise in the Capitol, like a measure authored last year by state Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, that never made it out of committee. And no statewide candidate from the Republican Party — which has won every statewide election in Texas for two decades — supports gay marriage. Observers say the most likely path to gay marriage in the Lone Star State would involve a ruling with national implications from the U.S. Supreme Court. Following rulings from courts in several states striking down gay marriage bans, some speculate that the high court could rule on the issue as early as June 2015 — after the end of the state's next legislative session.
The issue of gay marriage has surfaced in the gubernatorial race between Democratic state Sen. Wendy Davis and Republican Attorney General Greg Abbott. Davis, who supports gay marriage and legal job protections for LGBT Texans, has received significant financial support from gay rights organizations. The political arm of Equality Texas, an LGBT political advocacy group, contributed at least $56,000 to Davis’ campaign for governor, while the Washington, D.C.-based Lesbian Super PAC gave $30,000.
Abbott is defending the state’s gay marriage ban as part of his job as the state’s top lawyer. But Abbott, a personal friend of one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit against the state who is seeking to get married, has used milder language than many of his Republican colleagues on the subject of gay marriage. “This is an issue on which there are good, well-meaning people on both sides,” Abbott said in a February response to the ruling. “It’s an issue that will ultimately be resolved by a higher court.”