SAN FRANCISCO — A state ban on gay marriage is costing the city of San Francisco millions of dollars a year in lost revenue and increased services, an economist testified Thursday in a lawsuit aimed at overturning the prohibition.
Chief city economist Edmund Egan said married people accumulate more wealth and have more to spend on property and consumer goods, which bolsters tax revenue.
He also said the city must spend more on health care for uninsured workers because same-sex couples are not always covered under their partner's employee health care plans.
"It's clear to me that Proposition 8 has a negative material impact on the city of San Francisco," he said. "These are impacts that are hard to quantify, but over the long term they can be powerful."
Egan testified during the fourth day of a federal trial on a lawsuit challenging Proposition 8, the ballot measure approved by statewide voters in 2008.
The city was allowed to join the suit to demonstrate that governments bear some of the costs of the ban.
Peter Patterson, a lawyer for Proposition 8 sponsors, challenged Egan's methodology and had him acknowledge during cross-examination that he based many of his estimates on assumptions drawn from the spending habits of opposite-sex couples.
The case is being heard by Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn R. Walker, who said Thursday he was abandoning his push to have the trial broadcast on the Internet because he didn't want the broadcast issue to distract from the trial itself. Walker disclosed the decision a day after the U.S. Supreme Court indefinitely blocked his plan to record the trial so it could be transmitted to other federal courthouses.
On the witness stand, Egan said San Francisco has seen higher mental health costs because of discrimination against gays and now spends $2.5 million a year on specialized services for them.
"I believe that the prohibition of marriage of same-sex couples is a form of discrimination, and it's reasonable to assume that if that prohibition were removed there would be over time a lessening of the discrimination those individuals see in their daily lives," he said.
Egan acknowledged he could not quantify many of the potential revenue and savings benefits if same-sex couples could marry. The most solid estimate he cited was $2.6 million the city was losing in hotel and sales tax revenue every year from weddings that can't take place.
He based the figure on the 5,100 marriage licenses San Francisco issued to same-sex couples during a five-month period in 2008 when gay marriage was legal, as well as on wedding industry data on how much couples spend on average when they tie the knot.
"Certainly San Francisco experienced an uptake in weddings (in 2008), and I can conclude with that the economic activity associated with weddings increased as well," he said.
A Columbia University social scientist testified Thursday that his research on how social stigma makes gays more vulnerable to depression, suicide and substance abuse. Ilan Meyer said Proposition 8 provided another source of distress that could create similar mental health problems.
"Basically having a constitutional law say to gay people, 'You are not welcome here' – the opposite of that would clearly say, 'You are welcome here, your relationships are valued, you are valued, we don't approve of rejection of you as a gay person as a state – that has a lot of power," Meyer said.
A lawyer for the measure's sponsors, Howard Nielson Jr., used Meyer's own research showing that black and Latino gays had fewer mental health problems than white gays to try to undercut the professor's assertion. Meyer had hypothesized in his study that black and Latino gays would have more mental health issues because of their dual minority identities.
Nielson also challenged Meyer's statement that California's domestic partnership law, which grants same-sex couples the same legal benefits and responsibilities as married spouses, was itself a source of stigma and emotional distress. Equality California, the state's largest gay rights group, sponsored the 2003 law.
"Do you believe Equality California would sponsor legislation that would stigmatize (gay) individuals?" Nielson asked.
"No, but that doesn't change my answer," Meyer said. "Having a second type of an institution that is clearly not the one that is designed for most people clearly is stigmatizing."
The trial is scheduled to resume Friday with testimony from Michael Lamb, a Cambridge University psychologist who will discuss gay and lesbian parenting and the benefits to children of allowing same-sex couples to marry.