A year since the Supreme Court's historic decision to strike down the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act and California's Proposition 8, San Francisco is still feeling the seismic effects of legalized gay marriage. Lines have swelled outside the County Clerk's office, which issued 1,300 marriage licenses this July — up from 1,100 in July 2012. Hotels, restaurants, theaters, and department stores are all enjoying the ancillary benefits of residing in a wedding destination.
How, exactly, that's affecting the city's purse strings — or the state's, for that matter — is still a point of contention.
A 2014 study in The Journal of Policy Analysis and Management suggests that California might lose $29 million in income tax revenue as a result of gay marriage. Authors James Alm, Sebastian Leguizamon, and Susane Leguizamon arrived at that figure by examining the state's tax structure and the income of the two earners in each newlywed LGBT couple; evidently, many of them could wind up in a lower tax bracket by getting married. New York, in contrast, could gain $16 million from marriage equality.
But officials in San Francisco question the notion that gay marriage could hurt anyone's pocketbook — be it the County Clerk or the Franchise Tax Board. In this city, it's been nothing but profitable, after all.
San Francisco's Chief Economist Ted Egan, who testified for the plaintiff's side at the Prop. 8 trial, argues that marriage equality only generates economic benefits. He cites a 2008 economic impact report from the Controller's Office, published right before the last gay marriage ban took effect. At that time, the city was enjoying a wedding tsunami, of sorts. Analysts projected a $19.8 million spending windfall by June 2010 if they continued at the same rate; the city stood to earn an additional $1.7 million from hotel, sales, and payroll taxes, in addition to marriage license and ceremony fees.
"I officiated for a wedding for two guys last March," San Francisco Travel President Joe D'Alessandro recalls, adding that the grooms' guests, some hailing from as far away as France and Mexico, wound up reveling in San Francisco for a week. "The money they spent [was] pretty intense," D'Alessandro says.
While a robust wedding industry doesn't necessarily translate into tax dollars, it could help offset any loss. And the loss itself doesn't have to be framed as a downside, study co-author Sebastian Leguizamon says. "If California loses revenue, this means that there is a fair amount of same-sex couples who could or would decrease their tax liability when married," he writes via email. Ergo, they're enjoying a benefit that heterosexual couples always had.
And, Sebastian concludes, a fair tax system is good for everyone.