Opinion L.A.

Stop cheapening the gay-marriage debate with talk of the financial up sides

Rights are rights. Whether recognizing those rights helps or harms the economy is irrelevant

Just about every time a state debates same-sex marriage, a report emerges giving a multimillion-dollar figure to how much the state’s economy would be boosted by all those weddings. Gay-marriage supporters then tout the studies as another good reason to support recognition of such unions.

Most recently, this happened in Texas. UCLA’s Williams Institute reports that gay marriage would bring close to $182 million in wedding business to the state over the first three years.  And Equality Texas, one of the organizations fighting for marriage rights, took the bait.

"Allowing gay couples to marry here would give an economic boost to caterers, florists, event venues, and others who make a living through wedding planning," Chuck Smith, executive director of Equality Texas, said according to the Dallas Observer.

But these kinds of figures are actually a very bad argument for same-sex marriage rights. Economic benefits and costs are not relevant to discussions of civil rights and cheapen the debate. Rights are rights.

 What if the Williams Institute had found the opposite? What if gay marriage were going to cost the Texas economy in some way? What would Smith say then? It wouldn’t be a valid argument against extending rights to gay and lesbian couples any more than a boost to the economy is a valid argument for it.

In fact, the report could be used in ways as an argument that gay marriage would not have a significant effect on the economy. Texas’ leisure and hospitality industry bring in $65.7 billion a year, the Williams Institute study notes. Same-sex marriage’s contribution would add up to less than a thousandth of that. Most of the boost would be in the first year; after that, revenue from same-sex marriage would be all but invisible.

Studies of this sort generally have a specious side; they assume that money for the marriages is money that would otherwise not be spent. Same-sex couples might choose to spend the money on other parties, or on travel or dining that would likewise help the leisure and hospitality industry.

In the end, it doesn’t matter. Nor do the interminable debates about whether children of same-sex couples do as well as those in families headed by heterosexual couples. Even if they didn’t, we do not use highest-quality parenting as a litmus test for any other marriages. Same-sex couples can and do have or adopt children, with or without marriage. Meanwhile, alcoholics and drug addicts, whose parenting skills might be sketchy to say the least, are allowed to wed.

There is one really good reason to support gay marriage: Marriage is a right — as the courts have said on numerous occasions — and it is discriminatory to relegate same-sex couples to the second-class status of civil unions rather than recognizing them as fully married. This right in no way tramples on the rights of others. And its effect on state economies is irrelevant.

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