New York Prepares for Same-Sex Wedding Surge as State Makes Unions Legal
Barbara Simkins might have been just another struggling bed-and-breakfast owner after opening the Green Rocks Inn near the New York state line in Ridgefield, Connecticut.
After her state’s Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage in October 2008, Simkins, 60, was named a justice of the peace. She performed more than 75 weddings for such couples in 2010 and may more than double that number this year.
“We saw an opportunity,” she said of the inn she runs with Natacha Merav Friedman, her 41-year-old fiancee. “We’re doing very well.”
New York’s June 24 enactment of a law permitting same-sex marriages may provide a shot of much-needed economic stimulus for the country’s third most-populous state. It may also draw new residents after the population shrank almost 1 percent to about 19.4 million people in the past year.
A study released last month by New York’s Independent Democratic Conference, four state senators who favored the new law, found that same-sex weddings would generate about $284 million in economic activity, producing $26.8 million in tax and fee revenue in the first three years. They estimated that about half of the state’s 43,000 same-sex couples living together would marry while more will come from out of state.
Surge of Sales
“In the brief window that couples could get married in California, there was an incredible surge in goods and services related to weddings, venue rentals, flowers, people traveling from around the country to come to weddings,” said Jim Carroll, interim executive director of Equality California, an advocacy group in San Francisco. “There’s definitely an economic boon that results from same-sex marriage.”
From June 17 to Nov. 4, 2008, when such weddings were allowed before voters banned them, the San Francisco county clerk issued 5,152 marriage licenses to same-sex couples, according to Ted Egan, an economist with the city Controller’s Office. Fewer than half, 45 percent, were city residents, he said in court testimony in 2009. Egan projected the ban would cost the city about $35 million in annual economic activity.
Same-sex couples out-earn heterosexual pairs and tend to have fewer financial obligations related to children, U.S. Census Bureau figures show. That can make them a rich marketing target. Homosexual communities have also historically helped revive such aging inner-city neighborhoods as Washington’s Dupont Circle, Boston’s South End, Miami’s South Beach and San Francisco’s Castro district.
Higher Average Incomes
Households composed of unmarried same-sex couples had incomes averaging about $104,000 in 2009, Census figures show. That compares with about $93,000 for married heterosexuals. Among same-sex partners, 39 percent had incomes of $100,000 or more, compared with 32 percent of traditional married couples.
Married couples generally are legally responsible for each other’s financial obligations, creating an extra source of payments for car loans, home mortgages and other debts, according to Jennifer Pizer, legal director for the Williams Institute on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Law at the University of California, Los Angeles.
New York may benefit financially if higher dual incomes push couples out of qualifying for Medicaid and other social services available to the poor, she said. The state may save $81 million on welfare benefits under the new law, the Independent Democratic Conference report said.
Business Leaders’ Letter
The Legislature acted on Governor Andrew Cuomo’s bill after more than 30 New York business leaders, including Lloyd Blankfein, the chief executive officer of Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (GS), urged its passage in a June 6 letter. The group including Bloomberg LP President Daniel L. Doctoroff said a failure to do so would harm their ability to recruit “the best and the brightest people.”
New York may become a magnet for same-sex couples because of the change in the law, which previously didn’t recognize such unions.
“We want to move to New York for the freedom,” said Jose Garcia, a Venezuelan hair stylist, while viewing the city’s Gay Pride parade in Manhattan June 26 with his partner, Edgar Morales. The couple, both 37, said they plan to move to the state as soon as this year because they can’t hold hands or say “I love you” to each other in their home country.
“We want to get married,” Garcia said.
New York Campaign
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg plans an appeal to such couples in a marketing campaign to pitch the most-populous U.S. city as a site for same-sex nuptials. His “NYC I Do” campaign “will create millions of dollars in additional economic impact,” said Kimberly Spell, a spokeswoman for NYC & Co., the city’s marketing arm. The city tourism industry generates $31 billion a year in economic activity.
The law allowing same-sex couples to wed was backed by 54 percent of New Yorkers, a Quinnipiac University poll reported today. The poll was taken the week Cuomo signed the bill legalizing the marriages. Most support came from voters under age 35, who backed the legislation 70 percent to 26 percent. Those over 65 opposed it 57 percent to 37 percent.
Tina Salandra, who runs Manhattan-based Numerical LLC, an accounting firm with a focus on tax preparation for same-sex couples, said she expects an increase in her business because of the law and may add one or two employees to handle the increase.
The law may be a mixed blessing when it comes to income taxes, as combined earnings may lead to higher marginal rates. The effects will depend on how the state’s tax code is adapted from a current requirement for filers to use the same status as on their federal returns, Salandra said. The U.S. Internal Revenue Service doesn’t recognize same-sex marriages.
The state Taxation and Finance Department said it plans to instruct such couples on how to file their returns “soon,” in an e-mailed statement to Bloomberg News.
The law’s economic benefits may be overstated by same-sex marriage advocates, said Brian Camenker, president of MassResistance, an advocacy group in Waltham, Massachusetts, where such unions have been legal since 2003. While there haven’t been that many weddings, an influx of same-sex couples has increased the state’s costs to provide health care to indigents and aid in domestic-abuse cases, he said.
Meanwhile, some heterosexual families have moved out of state because they didn’t want their children to be exposed to the “culture wars,” Camenker said.
Same-sex marriage proponents “come up with what we consider very questionable statistics about the impact,” Camenker said by telephone. “This idea that there’s going to be all these marriages doesn’t seem to be happening. You never see them listed in the newspapers anymore.”
Most of the economic benefits in New York will likely come from state residents, given that those eager to marry have for years been able to travel to nearby Connecticut and Massachusetts for the ceremonies, said David Paisley, senior projects director of Community Marketing Inc. in San Francisco. The company helps businesses reach gays and lesbians.
The primary beneficiaries will be hotels that host wedding ceremonies and receptions, as well as the guests who attend, Paisley said.
“The money is local,” he said. “There’s huge pent-up demand. You have couples who have been together for decades who have not had the opportunity to marry and now they do,” without traveling.
Simkins, the Ridgefield innkeeper who started her business in 2008, said she expects to lose some trade to New York, which is adjacent to her town. She said she’ll make it up from guests from states and countries where the marriages remain illegal.
Tuxedos to Jeans
Like heterosexual ceremonies, the weddings she has performed come in all shapes and sizes, from formal sit-down dinners in traditional wedding dresses and tuxedos to one Danish couple who got married in blue jeans and sleeveless tee-shirts.
One financial difference is that her inn is often booked on weekdays because the couples already have a date they are celebrating from a previous civil union ceremony, Simkins said.
“That way they don’t have to remember another anniversary,” she said.
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Tannenbaum at email@example.com.