For a state that is in dire fiscal circumstances, passing the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act in Illinois, which would legalize same-sex marriage, would generate between $54 million and $103 million in new spending over the first three years, according to a new report.
For a state that is in dire fiscal circumstances, passing the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act in Illinois, which would legalize same-sex marriage, could generate between $54 million and $103 million in new spending over the first three years, according to a new report by the Williams Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). Illinois lawmakers are currently wrestling with $9 billion budget deficit and nearly $100 billion in unfunded pension liabilities.
The Williams Institute report, “Estimating the Economic Boost of Marriage Equality in Illinois”, indicates at least 11,500 of Illinois’ same-sex couples would marry in the first three years following the passage of the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act.
A short-term boost to the economy, attributed largely to wedding expenses and tourism, could amount to more than $66 million in the first year alone, and more than $103 million over three years.
Researchers from the Center for American Progress say aligning immigration reform with marriage equality to include lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender undocumented immigrants, and thus a larger portion of the population, would serve as an ever greater boon to the economy.
“Undocumented LGBT immigrants face numerous challenges endemic both to their lack of immigration status and to their sexual orientation and gender identity,” the report reads. “For those who are both LGBT and undocumented, this double minority status has compounding harmful effects on their social, economic, and psychological well-being that make them among our society’s most vulnerable people.”
The Center for American Progress estimates that there are 32,300 binational same-sex couples in the United States today, and if the Uniting American Families Act, federal legislation that would legalize family-based immigration for same-sex couples, were passed, the total spending on wedding arrangements and tourism would skyrocket.
“The way the economy works is, the more the merrier, and the more economic value you have, the better off all Americans are,” said Philip Wolgin, senior policy analyst for immigration at the Center for American Progress, and co-author of the report, “Living in Dual Shadows.”
If America’s entire undocumented immigrant population, approximately 11 million people, were to be legalized it would generate an estimated $1.5 trillion to the U.S. economy over 10 years, he said. More than 267,000 people in that population identify as LGBT.
According to a 2011 report by the Pew Hispanic Center, at the end of 2010 Illinois had the sixth highest population of undocumented immigrants, at 525,000.
“We know that when you legalize someone and put them on a path to citizenship, they make significantly higher wages which then translates to more economic value,” explains Wolgin. “Also, undocumented immigrants make less than native born [people], and unfortunately because of discrimination, LGBT Americans also face significant wage pressure, so this is a way of raising wages and generating economic stimulus.”
Wolgin said that if marriage equality and immigration reform were brought together as a civil rights movement, all Americans would benefit from a boosted economy.
Illinois’ Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act, SB 10, was approved by the House Executive Committee last month and awaits a vote by the full House. The Illinois Senate approved it on February 14 and Gov. Pat Quinn has given the legislation his endorsement.
Saying she is “confident marriage equality will pass” in the House, State Sen. Heather Steans (D-Chicago), sponsor of the legislation, said in a statement that Illinois is “very close to declaring victory for fairness and human dignity.”
A vote from the Illinois House of Representatives could come as early as this week. At a rally yesterday in Oak Park, demonstrators pressured State Rep. LaShawn Ford (D-Chicago) to vote in favor of the marriage equality legislation.
"Marriage equality is coming to Illinois – and if we all do our part, we can pass this historic legislation as soon as this week," Quinn said yesterday in a message sent by Illinois Unites For Marriage. The governor called on constituents to encourage their lawmakers to "vote yes" on the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act.
"I’m prepared to sign marriage equality into law, but we need your help to make sure that SB 10 passes in the House. Please take a moment right now to message your Representative now and urge him or her to vote yes," wrote Quinn. "Now let’s pass this bill."
The Uniting American Families Act, however, has seen little momentum. Two companion bills, HR 519 and S 296, are currently sitting in Congressional committees and neither piece of legislation has seen activity since February.
“The economy would feel positive effects of these marriages, but the constitutional right to marry and love whomever one wants should be the far more central aspect of legislation,” said Barbara J. Risman, professor of sociology and head of the Sociology Department at the University of Illinois at Chicago and senior scholar on the Council of Contemporary Families.
Risman said “the sky is the limit” regarding the economic impact of Illinois’ Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act, noting she’s been to two “over the top” same-sex weddings.
“Whether or not marriage equality is good for the economy seems irrelevant, this has to do with basic human dignity,” she said. “I don’t think the deliberations or the vote around gay marriage should be based at all on economic circumstances.”
In addition to supporting the Uniting American Families Act, the Center for American Progress report also called for the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).
Passed as a law by former President Bill Clinton in 1996, DOMA defines a “spouse” as “a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife” and thus must be interpreted that way by federal agencies. If Illinois were to join nine other states (Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont, New Hampshire, New York, Maine, Maryland, and Washington) in legalizing same-sex marriage, the legal status of the marriage will not be recognized in a state that has not authorized it.
Family-based immigration, insurance benefits for government employees, Social Security survivors' benefits, and the filing of joint tax returns for same-sex couples are not recognized by federal agencies under Section 3 of DOMA.
But Section 3 has been found unconstitutional in eight federal courts and the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear an appeal in one of those cases, United States v. Windsor, with oral arguments scheduled for March 27, 2013.
The Williams Institute estimated there were more than 23,000 resident same-sex couples in Illinois.
“If you allow a whole new group of people to get married they will spend money on commitment ceremonies and other kinds of celebrations for that special day,” said Lee Badgett, co-author of the report, research director at the Williams Institute and director of the Center for Public Policy and Administration at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.
Legalizing same-sex marriage in Illinois would be the “tip of the iceberg,” according to Badgett. She said beyond wedding and tourism expenditures boosting Illinois’ economy, legalizing same-sex marriage may draw in creative LGBT people, or people with skills that may not have otherwise come to the state, or it might help businesses recruit workers who currently live in states where same-sex couples can’t get married.
“Illinois would send a very powerful message to LGBT people across the country that the state is committed to equal treatment,” she said.