This past year I authored the Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Protection Act sponsored by Equality California. The bill would change the definition of marriage from a civil contract between a man and a woman to a civil contract between two persons. We also included a section stating that any minister, priest, rabbi, or any religious institution that does not wish to recognize or solemnize such marriages would not be required to do so.
We found inspiration from a quotation from the 1948 California supreme court decision ending the ban on interracial marriage, preceding the 1967 Earl Warren U.S. Supreme Court decision. At that time our justices stated that “marriage is more than a civil contract to be regulated by state law. It is a fundamental right of all citizens.”
The bill, which is the very first of its kind in this country to be passed by both houses of a state legislature, is currently sitting on Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s desk. With his signature, California stands to benefit by millions of dollars each year, simply by doing what is right: strengthening the emotional and financial bonds between loving and committed same-sex couples, many of whom have been together for decades. If the bill were signed into law, California would not only end a second class of citizenship for same-sex couples, it would provide equal respect, dignity, and validation for all of its families and children.
Forbes magazine recently calculated that 546,000 gay and lesbian couples nationwide would get married if they were legally allowed to do so. Of those, 464,000 couples would have a traditional wedding ceremony with a reception. Forbes then broke down the costs associated with such a wedding and found that these marriages would generate $16.8 billion in revenue for businesses associated with the wedding industry. Of that figure, we estimate that California would reap $3 billion. The number of new jobs created would be in the thousands.
A study co-authored by the Williams Project, a think tank at UCLA School of Law, and the Institute for Gay and Lesbian Strategic Studies at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, found that the California state budget would see a net gain of about $25.6 million annually if marriage equality were legalized. This figure was calculated by adding the state’s increase in sales tax revenue and its savings from reduced enrollment in means-tested public benefit programs (since many recipients who qualify for such programs as individuals would no longer qualify when being assessed by their household income).
In addition, other studies confirm what we already know: Allowing same-sex couples to access one another’s health care plans, make joint medical decisions, inherit one another’s property, file joint tax returns, and provide for their children without fear of them falling into foster care should one partner pass away is not only humane but fiscally smart. Equality, fairness, and civil rights are good for business.
Beyond the studies, it is fiscally prudent for the government to support stable and committed relationships. As couples age, they rely on one another for support, leaving the government with less of a burden when they need care. It is a curiosity that the conservative values of commitment, personal responsibility, monogamy, love, and family that our bill represents were opposed by every Republican member of the state legislature. We can only hope that our Republican governor, who claims to be a champion of job creation, economic stimulus, and growth as well as full and equal legal protections for same-sex couples, will be as thoughtful and visionary as the parliaments and prime ministers of Canada and Spain.
When our government takes itself out of the most intimate and personal decision-making process in which any person engages—the choosing of a lifetime partner—everyone wins. I don’t believe we can put a price tag on equality, but we can certainly reap its benefits.