Alex Blaze

The economics of marriage

Filed By Alex Blaze | June 05, 2007 6:43 PM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, Politics
Tags: economic policy, LGBT homeless, marriage, New York

The comptroller of the city of New York released a report that estimated that recognizing same-sex marriage in that state would "boost the economy by $184 million statewide." Ah, well, that sounds great! Love makes money, and if there's anything governments like more than love, it's money! Seriously, if someone could find a way to bottle up love and sell it for $3 a liter (quite a steal, considering how much alcohol can cost), it would become a premiere American industry until free trade advocates remove protective tariffs to allow non-unionized sweatshop laborers in other countries to make love for the rest of us. Then Dateline can do exposes on the child labor in the love industry and reports of tainted love (melamine, of course) would come in, but nothing would be able to stop the gigantic, multinational love-making machine. Love wouldn't be free, but it could be half-off at Meijer.

But I digress.

I'm always skeptical about phrases like "boost the economy" or "insert money into the economy". When I read them, I think, what in the world do they mean by "economy"? Marriage can't in fact create money that wasn't there before, and a closer look at the report says just that - "boost the economy" means that money that was being spent on other things would be spent on the things that the comptroller was counting. For instance, the largest source of the $184 million was more spending on weddings. Sure, some people who go to Canada or Massachusetts for a ceremony or stay in their home state might go to New York, but that doesn't generate cash, it just redirects money to one particular state. People who haven't had a ceremony in New York might have one, but it's not as if they wouldn't have spent their money at all.

This is what I don't like about economic arguments for what are inherently civil rights or civil liberties issues - they always fall through under scrutiny and in the meantime devalue whatever program or ideology they're supposedly supporting. The report estimates that businesses would have to spend more on health care if the state of New York recognized same-sex marriage. In fact, that's a smaller part of the libertarian argument against same-sex marraige - marriage benefits were created for people with children, same-sex couples don't have children (I know, I know), and therefore that money is being wasted. So if same-sex mariage weren't economically viable, would that be a good reason to say "no"?

I have yet to hear a good prediction on the money generating or using ability of same-sex marriage, but what about another LGBTQueer issue that's definitely not going to make anyone $184 million: raising the amount of money allocated to the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act and earmarking some of it for shelters that deal specifically with queer youth and creating sensitivity training programs for those who work in other shelters? This would help to fight the negative effects of homelessness on our youth - mental illness, sexual predation - and considering the disproportionate number of LGBT homeless youth, it's definitely an equality issue. But something like that doesn't raise tax revenue, so is it a non-starter?

It would be a whole lot more honest and productive just to say that same-sex relationships are valuable to the people in them and productive of love and compassion that spills over to society at large, denying a class of people access to a government institution for no good reason is wrong, and costs related to it - health care, paternity leave, retirement funds - shouldn't be denied to anyone anyway. Then we'd have a starting framework for a larger challenge to a system that says that devalues difference and causes hardship for those who want to live outside of its prescribed roles of subjugation.

Because making this about money and ceremonies makes us forget what we're really fighting for here: the right for all people to live to their potential.

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