Wednesday, August 6, 2008

VT and MA Now Compete for Gay Wedding Business; CT Next? :: EDGE Boston

VT and MA Now Compete for Gay Wedding Business; CT Next? :: EDGE Boston

by Kilian Melloy
EDGE Contributor
Friday Aug 1, 2008

Now that a racist 1913 law that had been used against gay families has been repealed in Massachusetts, will more gay and lesbian couples head to the Bay State to tie the knot?

Since the advent four years ago of marriage equality in MA, word has been spreading: same-sex weddings are big business, and states that allow marriage equality stand to reap the benefits not only of local residents wishing to head to the altar, but also out-of-state couples willing to travel in order to claim their right to family.

Those who are willing literally to go the distance and cross state lines in order to wed their life partners bring even more cash into the state economy than local gay families celebrating their weddings, because many of the tourist businesses also benefit.

As reported here at EDGE, a recent report from The Williams Institute suggests that states allowing marriage equality are not only standing up for the civil rights of their citizens, but exhibiting sound business sense as well: California, which recently became the second state in the U.S. to provide marriage equality to its gay and lesbian families, could rake in as much as $64 million over the next three years, assuming that an anti-gay ballot initiative to re-write the state constitution and strip gay families of their right to marry fails at the ballot box this Nov.

And if New Jersey, thought by some to be likely to become the third state offering equality to gay and lesbian families, should open the door to marriage also, it could enjoy a take of $19 million.

A separate report from the Congressional Budget Office projected that if all states in the Union were to provide their gay and lesbian families with marriage rights, the national profit on same-sex weddings would ring the (cash register) bells to the tune of a billion dollars per year.

All of which is starting to sink in, given these cash-strapped times.

Until recently, the only thing stopping gay and lesbian families from other states from making a trip over state lines and marrying in MA was a state law from 1913 that had originally been written to uphold anti-miscegenation laws in other locales.

The 1913 law said that no one whose marriage would be illegal in their home state would be allowed to marry in MA.

After marriage equality became a legal reality in America for the first time in 2004 in MA, the state’s then-governor Mitt Romney, already attempting to court a conservative base with an eye to the 2008 election, cited the 1913 law as a means of preventing gay and lesbian families from other states from entering MA, marrying, and then presenting a legal challenge to their home states’ governments.

The legality of such a scenario was in doubt already, thanks to a 1996 law, the federal "Defense of Marriage Act," which, rather than defend family rights for gay Americans, singles them out for exclusion from legal family recognition.

Now that current MA governor Deval Patrick has signed a bill to strike that antiquated and racist law from the books, out-of-state couples will be free to travel to the Bay State to tie the knot, and MA will reap the financial benefits. But will other states feel the sting of lost profits?

A story posted at the Web site for NBC affiliate WPTZ looked at the issue from a Vermont perspective, investigating whether VT--the first state to offer limited recognition of gay families by passing a civil unions law in 2000, under then-governor Howard Dean--would see tourist dollars flow away from the state. After all, why settle for a civil union when couples can go for true (if limited to state level) marriage?

The WPTZ article cited a VT bed and breakfast, Grunberg Haus, as an example; when the civil unions law took effect, that establishment immediately gained business, and over the years same-sex couples (and their guests) coming to the state to celebrate their civil union has remained a significant part of the business’ revenue stream.

Jeff Connor, who with his wife owns and operates Grunberg Haus, expressed the opinion that the repeal of the racist law from 1913 would not lead to a big drop in business.

VT, said Connor, remains "a magical place to have a wedding," regardless of the gender of the persons involved.

Connor, who also serves the Vermont Gay Tourism Association as its president, was quoted in the WPTZ article as saying, "Covered bridges, waterfalls, beautiful farms, the outdoors, the green mountains--there’s a lot of cache built up."

Connors cited what he called "The Vermont brand--clean, pure, wholesome."

But business could be better, reckoned Connor, whom the article cited as saying that VT ought to expand its civil unions law into the genuine article and allow marriage equality.

Said Connor of marriage among gay and lesbian couples, "It’s an even bigger market now than what it was six or seven years ago."

Seventy-five percent of the civil unions celebrated in VT involve couples who have come from another state, according to wedding magazine Vermont Vows editor Krista Washburn, who did not expect to see an immediate drop in business.

Said Washburn in the article, "Will we see an impact economically? I don’t think so."

Added Washburn, "Not right away."

Meantime, Connecticut may outpace NJ and become the third state to provide gay and lesbian families with equal recognition.

According to a July 30 article that appeared at families in CT may be more willing to stay and fight for their rights at home than to make a trip to MA and get married there.

The article quoted Love Makes a Family’s executive director, Anne Stanback, who said of the repeal of MA’s anti-miscegenation law, "It’s a wonderful and decisive vote, but I don’t think it will have a huge impact in Connecticut."

Added Stanback, "Same-sex couples here understand we will very likely have the ability to marry in our state in the near future, either through the court or through the legislature."

The CT Supreme Court is expected to rule in the case of eight couples whose suit, presented to the court over a year ago, posited the right of gay and lesbian families to wed.

Meantime, legislation that would have allowed marriages performed in other jurisdictions, such as MA or Canada, to be recognized in CT stalled in committee.

Such legislation would have echoed New York state policy, which acknowledges marriages of gays and lesbians performed in locales where marriage equality is permitted, even though NY law does not provide for in-state weddings between same-sex couples.

The executive director of the anti-gay Family Institute of Connecticut, Peter Wolfgang, hailed the snag, saying that in the wake of the MA law’s repeal, "We’re only now realizing how big a victory it was."

Despite the provisions of DOMA, which specifically allows states to refuse to recognize gay and lesbian marriages performed elsewhere, Wolfgang repeated the accusations that the right wing have adopted as a mantra since state lawmakers in MA voted to do away with the racist law from 1913, saying that MA is trying to export gay marriage and "impose" it on the rest of the country.

Aside from the civil rights arguments that favored repealing MA’s 1913 anti-miscegenation law, proponents of the repeal cited the financial upswing in the wedding industry that CA has seen since that state, which had no pre-existing laws limiting marriages for out-of-staters, became the second state to grant marriage equality, reported the article.

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