Will Same-Sex Marriage Save Idaho’s Economy?

In our rapidly changing legal landscape, the issue of same-sex marriage has been a hotly contested topic in the strongly conservative State of Idaho. In 2006, Idaho’s constitution was amended by popular vote to include a provision that mandated recognition of heterosexual marriages only in Idaho. In effect, this provision meant that Idaho would not allow same-sex couples to marry in Idaho and would not recognize same-sex marriages that were legally performed outside of Idaho. However, following the U.S. Supreme Court’s historic opinion in Windsor v. United States, a flood of state court litigation across the United States has posed challenges to state laws and constitutional provisions that continue to bar the recognition of or allowance of the marriages of same-sex couples. In early November, four lesbian couples filed suit in a Boise, Idaho federal district court also challenging’s Idaho’s law banning same-sex marriage and denying recognition to same-sex couples legally married in other states. While that court’s decision on the issue of the constitutionality of denying LGBT couples the right to marry is still pending, a Utah federal district court just struck down Utah’s ban on same-sex marriage.

If the federal district court in Idaho were to follow the Utah court’s lead by striking down Idaho’s ban on same-sex marriages, one must question how this decision could affect the State of Idaho. In a move that might surprise Idaho’s legislators (who have failed to pass any sort of LGBT employment protections over the last several legislative sessions), studies suggest that legalizing same-sex marriage could only help state economies continue to rebound from the most recent economic slump. Economist M.V. Badgett’s research suggests that the move could generate at least $1.5 billion nation-wide in spending on wedding-related purchases. Moreover, all of these purchases inject a much needed cash infusion for state and local governments in the form of sales tax revenue. In 2012, then-mayor Michael Bloomberg announced that New York City’s economy had generated an additional $259 million in marriage license fees, wedding celebrations, and marriage-related expenditures. A UCLA study in 2012 regarding  Washington State stated, “The total spending on wedding arrangements and tourism by resident same-sex couples and their guests will add an estimated $88 million boost to the state and local economy of Washington over the course of three years, with a $57 million boost in the first year alone. This economic boost is likely to add $8 million in tax revenue to state and local coffers, with an estimated $5 million occurring in the first year.”

If we presume that such trends would also be reflected in Idaho, it becomes possible that legalizing same-sex marriage could be one brick in the economic wall that saves Idaho’s flagging economy. For a state that has been slow to recognize LGBT rights, the striking down of Idaho’s ban on same-sex marriage would likely be a dual achievement: a boon to Idaho’s human rights history, as well as Idaho’s economy.