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Study: Gay weddings could bring $15.5 million to Utah economy

Published April 25, 2014 4:05 pm

LGBT • Analysis assumes half of gay couples would wed, drawing visitors.
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Legalizing same-sex marriage could generate some $15.5 million in wedding spending — and more than $1 million in sales tax revenue — for Utah's economy in the first three years, a new study finds.

The analysis by the Los Angeles-based Williams Institute is based on average nuptial and tourism costs, as well as studies from states that have legalized gay marriage.

Researchers assumed that about half of the approximately 3,900 gay couples counted in the 2010 census would wed in the first three years, based on the response in other states.

They estimated an average wedding cost of just over $6,138, far below the typical price tag for a Utah wedding, reasoning that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) couples may have less financial support from their parents and families.

That estimate puts direct wedding spending at $12.1 million. Based on a 2008 report on same-sex marriages in Massachusetts, the Williams Institute assumed each wedding would bring in 16 out-of-town guests, adding another $3.4 million in tourism spending.

The sales tax rate of 6.68 percent means that the $15.5 million total would bring in more than $1 million in taxes.

It could also generate some 268 jobs in the tourism and hospitality sector.

Brandie Balken, executive director of LGBT advocacy group Equality Utah, said the report gives another reason to allow same-sex couples to marry.

"Utah needs to extend marriage to loving same-sex couples for all the right reasons, but now we know that the freedom to marry would also help many small businesses, the hotel industry and the state's tax base," she said in a statement. "There's simply no good reason for denying these families the protections, benefits and the joys of marriage."

Kathy Harbin, general manager of wedding venue Cactus and Tropicals, wed her partner during the 17 days same-sex marriage was legal in Utah, one of more than 1,200 couples to do so. She said that small businesses like hers would benefit from keeping it legal.

The state is appealing a Dec. 20 decision overturning Utah's ban on gay marriage; the federal appeals court in Denver heard arguments in the case earlier this month.

"Extending marriage to gay and lesbian couples in Utah would greatly enhance not just our business but many others who directly or indirectly see their revenues increase through wedding celebrations," Harbin said in a statement. "Small businesses are a major lifeblood of Utah's economy, and so is love."

The Williams Institute is a think tank studying LGBT issues at the University of California Los Angeles School of Law.

lwhitehurst@sltrib.com Twitter: @lwhitehurst