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Marriage Worth $391 Million to New York

Marriage Worth $391 Million to New York

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The New York state senate Independent Democratic Conference released a report Tuesday showing that marriage equality would generate at least $391 million for the state in business, tax revenue, and savings within three years of becoming law.

The four members of the breakaway Democratic conference, who all support marriage equality, released the report, "For Love or Money?: The Economic Impact of Marriage Equality in New York," at an afternoon press conference in Albany. They were joined by constituents and advocates including out state assembly member Matt Titone and Ross Levi, executive director of the Empire State Pride Agenda, a member of the New Yorkers United for Marriage Equality coalition.

According to a news release from the conference, "Using conservative estimates, the report estimated that 21,309 gay and lesbian couples from New York would get married within the first three years. It also estimates that 3,308 couples from surrounding states that do not have marriage equality would travel to New York to get married, as would 41,907 non-New York gay and lesbian couples who would travel to New York for a 'destination wedding.'"

The report, based on methodology from a 2007 report by the New York City comptroller's office and the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law, projects that marriage equality would bring the state nearly $311 million over the next three years, mostly from wedding revenue and tourism totaling almost $284 million, but also from taxes and marriage license fees. Millions more would come in the form of savings in means-tested programs, where the report argues that, contrary to some opponents' claims about increased strain on the state, married applicants are less likely to qualify for government assistance than single applicants.

The Independent Democratic Conference includes senators Jeffrey Klein, David Carlucci, David Valesky, and Diane Savino, known for her impassioned speech for marriage equality on the state senate floor in 2009 that went viral. Their report adds to economic arguments for the legislation, including a recent letter sent from a bipartisan group of Wall Street leaders to state lawmakers that argued New York needs marriage equality in order to remain globally competitive and attract top talent.

New Yorkers United for Marriage issued a statement about the IDC report from Brian Ellner, senior strategist for the Human Rights Campaign, also a member of the bipartisan coalition of five LGBT advocacy organizations.

"The IDC report validates what business leaders, financial experts and employers have long said: marriage for all New Yorkers is not only the right thing to do, it is good business," he said. "Marriage equality keeps New York competitive in both attracting and retaining top professional talent from around the nation and globe. Marriage equality would be a boon to the state's depressed tourism and wedding industries, generating an estimated $392 million in economic activity, revenue and savings. In the current economic climate, this is revenue New York can't afford to forgo. We are confident that lawmakers will consider the vast economic incentives - as well as the loving committed couples within their districts - and support marriage rights for all New Yorkers."

In addition to business support, a coalition of religious leaders from various denominations announced support for marriage equality last week, and on Wednesday, 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers' East, the state's largest healthcare union with some 350,000 members, called on lawmakers to pass the legislation by June, a priority set by Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Jennifer Cunningham, the chief strategist for New Yorkers United for Marriage and a close Cuomo ally, previously served as political director of the union, which kicked off phone banking efforts for marriage equality last week with a special appearance by Chelsea Clinton.

"A growing majority of New Yorkers from all political, religious and economic walks of life support marriage equality," said George Gresham, president of 1199 SEIU United Healthcare Workers East, in a statement. "It's time for the New York State Legislature to do the same. All committed and loving couples should be allowed to marry whomever they choose. This is not just a legal issue, this is a civil rights issue and we will fight with our sisters and brothers in the LGBT community to pass this important legislation."

Despite the momentum, advocates remain short of the 32 votes needed to pass the marriage equality bill in the Republican-controlled senate, where 26 senators, all Democrats, publicly support the measure. A combination of Democrats currently undecided and a handful of Republicans, who uniformly rejected the bill two years ago, will be needed to pass the measure, which the assembly has approved three times since 2007.

The economic report and union announcement join a series of rapid-fire developments in the marriage equality campaign in New York this week.

On Tuesday, one day after a lobbying event drew 1,200 LGBT constituents to Albany, Asssemblymember Daniel O'Donnell announced the introduction of a marriage equality bill in his chamber, a possible signal that the gay lawmaker refuses to wait while the governor and advocates work to secure the votes needed in the senate. The prevailing narrative had indicated the bill would be introduced first in the senate, after enough votes were secured.

An O'Donnell spokesman said he was traveling and not available for comment Wednesday. The coalition did not immediately return a call seeking comment, but a Cuomo spokesman told The New York Times that the governor remains focused on the senate.

State senator Thomas K. Duane, who sponsored the bill in 2009, said he was "disappointed" by the assembly introduction in a brief telephone interview with The Advocate on Wednesday, but he added that efforts continue to target the senate. The gay Manhattan lawmaker said he is working with the governor and the coalition toward that end.

"I was disappointed about the introduction of the legislation because we had all been trying to work together, the advocacy groups and the executive, but I have lots of confidence in the governor's leadership and the united campaign to get marriage into law in New York State," he said.

Duane, who said O'Donnell did not inform him of his plans in advance, downplayed the prospect of any negative impact, but marriage equality opponents seized on the development as a sign of strain among advocates, the legislature and the governor.

"Oddly enough, it's encouraging for advocates of authentic marriage," said the Rev. Jason J. McGuire, executive director of New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms, which represents evangelical Protestants across the state. "Up to this point all we have heard was that this new coalition was going to push for passage of the legislation before the end of June. The public was led to believe that it was inevitable, but I think now we see that this coalition can't even hold its strategy together for a matter of a few weeks, let alone the time needed to get the job done," he said.

Also on Tuesday, the National Organization for Marriage announced it would spend $500,000 on TV ads in the state and promised, as they did prior to the marriage equality setback in Maryland this year, to spend $1 million to defeat senators who vote for the bill. The first ad recycles a spot run in 2009 that falsely claims marriage equality legislation would mandate school children be taught about same-sex relationships.

NOM president Brian Brown plans to join a rally against marriage equality sponsored by state senator Ruben Diaz Sr. in the Bronx on Sunday.
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