Comment: The cost of denying same-sex marriage

Australia has everything to gain from embracing marriage equality and nothing to lose, says Alex Greenwich

Not only will legal recognition of gay marriage put an end to discrimination against same-sex couples, it will deliver a massive boom to the economy, writes Alex Greenwich.

Australia has everything to gain from embracing marriage equality and nothing to lose. The issue has been at the front and centre of this federal election and is a campaign that gives people hope.

65% of voters support marriage equality and they know we are falling behind our global counterparts like New Zealand, Argentina, The United Kingdom, Canada and France. I am confident Australia will soon be able to share in the benefits that marriage equality brings to same-sex couples, families, communities, national pride, and indeed the economy.  

Legal discrimination against gay and lesbian people has been shown to have an adverse and costly impact on their mental and physical health. Marriage is an effective welfare safety net, with married partners relying less on government in times of personal crisis than unmarried partners or singles.

Research shows gay and lesbian people experience higher-than-average levels of stress and mental health problems as a result of legal discrimination and social exclusion, particularly when that discrimination and exclusion occurs from a core institution like marriage.

Studies confirm the highest risk group are young gay and lesbian people for whom legal discrimination and exclusion can contribute to suicide.

Studies have also shown that married partners, including married same-sex partners, are less likely to seek government welfare than unmarried partners or singles in times of personal crisis such as job loss or injury. The Economist identified this back in January 1996,  and wrote about the need for marriage equality by saying:

“Marriage remains an economic bulwark. Single people ... are economically vulnerable, and much more likely to fall into the arms of the welfare state. Furthermore, they call sooner upon public support when they need care – and, indeed, are likelier to fall ill (married people, the numbers show, are not only happier but considerably healthier).”

We also know that the wedding industry is a huge economic stimulator with 121,752 marriages each year generating at $6.6 billion in wedding spending. The 2011 census conservatively estimated that there are 33,714 same sex de facto couples living in Australia. A University of Queensland study suggest that around half would like to get married.

If they spent the same as the average heterosexual couples does (on average over $50,000 per wedding), this would generate $970 million in extra wedding spend.   

By these numbers, advocacy group Australian Marriage Equality estimates that nearly $50 million dollars is headed to New Zealand thanks to the 1,000 plus Aussie couples planning to marry there.  This is at the cost of our own struggling small business sector in the catering, hospitality, florist, photography, and retail sectors.

This international experience proves this to be the case with studies showing the Massachusetts economy benefitted in $111 Million over five years thanks to marriage equality. In California the estimated economic benefit was $684 Million and 2,200 jobs, and in Argentina over 300 new businesses started in their first year of marriage equality.

Jurisdictions with marriage equality have also be found to attract more highly skilled migration, this is vitally important for Australia, as we continue to lose some of our greatest innovators to the silicon valley and other places.  The William Institute of the UCLA Law School conducted a study that showed that in Massachusetts marriage equality resulted in an increase of younger, female, and more highly educated and skilled individuals in same-sex couples moving to the state.

Money aside, the community and all recent parliamentary inquiries on marriage equality say the same thing, marriage equality is the right thing to do and it is an aspiration Australians want to achieve soon.

Same-sex couples shouldn’t have to leave the country we love to marry the person we love. In the next parliament through cross-party cooperation this reform can happen.

Alex Greenwich is the independent member for Sydney in the NSW Legislative Assembly, Chair of Australian Marriage Equality, and the first member of an Australian parliament in a same-sex marriage.

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