Gay marriage debate includes talk of money as historic vote nears
ST. PAUL -- Most debate about today's historic Minnesota House vote to allow same-sex marriage centers on religious and moral issues, but money also slips into the discussion.
A UCLA Williams Institute analysis claims that allowing gay couples to marry would provide a $42 million economic boost in the first three years, with $27 million in the first year alone.
The report indicates that nearly half of the 10,000 Minnesota gay couples would marry in the first three years after allowed.
Minnesota would be the 12th state to allow gay marriage, after Delaware approved it this week. Each state has reported an economic gain after approving gay marriage.
In New York City alone, a $259 million influx was felt in the first year of same-sex marriage, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said.
"Marriage equality has made our city more open, inclusive and free, and it has also helped to create jobs and support our economy," Bloomberg said in a statement.
While the state's economy could feel a boost, state officials estimate that gay spouses would cost the state $1.3 million in health insurance benefits that would be allowed if the law passes.
Pocketbook arguments play a back-burner role to issues of the heart in the Minnesota gay marriage debate, where both sides use religious and morale arguments to make their case.
The House takes up the issue today, and if it passes, the Senate expects a Monday vote.
"This is one of those society-changing breakthrough moments," said Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton, a strong gay marriage supporter.
He encouraged reluctant Democrats, especially those from rural Minnesota, to do "what is best for all of Minnesota. ... That's a vote that takes a lot of courage."
State officials are bracing for a packed Capitol, with talk of up to 5,000 people on both sides of the issue expected to show up.
Two years ago, when lawmakers approved putting a question to voters about whether to ban gay marriage, the Capitol was full. Officials dealt with some skirmishes, but much of the time pro- and anti-gay marriage activists stood side by side peacefully.
Law enforcement agencies will be out in force to prevent incidents.
While gay marriage draws thousands to the Capitol, another 1,200 school students are expected to be there on traditional spring field trips.
Debate should begin at midday, with relatively few amendments expected to be offered.
Rep. Tim Kelly, R-Red Wing, one of a few Republicans to oppose the successful 2011 effort to put a gay marriage ban on last November's ballot, plans to offer an amendment to replace "marriage" in state law with "civil unions." Both sides oppose it, but Kelley sees it as a compromise.
Bill sponsor Rep. Karen Clark, DFL-Minneapolis, and Rep. David Fitzsimmons, R-Albertville, propose amendments to call marriage "civil marriage," an idea that appears to have support in both parties.
Amendments also are proposed that would protect Minnesotans who do not want to participate in same-sex marriage activities.
A concern was brought to the Minnesota Capitol this week by a New York farm couple who host wedding receptions. They are fighting a legal claim after refusing to allow a lesbian couple to have a reception on the farm.
Potential fiscal gains are not main parts of the debate.
Sen. Sean Nienow, R-Cambridge, argued against the marriage plan in the Senate Finance Committee and in an interview said he still would fight it even if there were an economic benefit.
"I can see you would see a spike, but after that it would be only a very small number," Nienow said about any economic improvement.
He questioned the UCLA and other studies that show economic gain. If a couple spends $10,000 on a wedding, he said, that well could mean money would be spent on a wedding instead of buying a new vehicle, so the same amount of money could be spent, just in different ways.
"There are all kinds of things we could do to create all kinds of economic activity," he said, "but is it something we should do?"
In the first year of gay marriage in Iowa, Molly Tafoya of One Iowa, a pro-gay marriage group, said gay couples spent up to $13 million on weddings and related activities. She said it brought government almost $1 million in new revenue.
Tafoya said some gay couples moved to Iowa once they could get married there, also boosting the economy and tax revenues.
The UCLA report predicts Minnesota state and local tax revenues would jump $3 million due to same-sex-marriage-related activities in the next three years.
Couples from Wisconsin, North Dakota and South Dakota could be expected to take advantage of the Minnesota marriage law if it passes.
The House gay marriage debate may be watched on public television Minnesota Channel throughout the state or at http://tinyurl.com/MNHouseTV.