THE BLOG
12/08/2011 02:48 pm ET | Updated Feb 07, 2012

Same Sex Marriage=Big Business for Iowa (Anything Wrong With That?)

In September, presidential candidate Newt Gingrich told an audience in Fort Dodge, Iowa that same-sex marriage is "a temporary aberration that will dissipate". But since the the Iowa Supreme Court ruling made it legal for gay and lesbian couples to marry in 2009, that "temporary aberration" has generated some much needed revenue for a beleaguered state budget and some welcome business for local merchants, according to a report from The Williams Institute released Wednesday.

The report, "Estimating the Economic Boost of Marriage Equality in Iowa: Sales Tax," concludes, "the total spending on wedding arrangements and tourism by same-sex couples and their guests was about $12 to $13 million in the first year alone. We estimate that this economic boost generated about $850,000 to $930,000 in tax revenue for the state and various localities."

According to the December 7 press release from the Williams Institute, the figures in the report are based on the best available data from several sources and were drawn upon figures indicating average wedding expenditures in Iowa and tourism reports from 2009 and 2010, along with data regarding marriage expenses by same-sex couples in other states. The report also cites data from the State of Iowa on the number of couples who have married in the year following the Iowa Supreme Court decision in Varnum v. Brien.

The institute confirms that the State of Iowa reported that 2,099 same-sex couples married during the first year following the Iowa decision to extend marriage rights to same-sex couples. Of those marriages, 866 couples lived in Iowa, and 1,233 couples came from other states--mostly from surrounding states in the Midwest with Illinois as the largest contributor, the report adds.

"Our study estimates that out-of-state same-sex couples alone spent $2.2 million on weddings in Iowa," said co-author Angeliki Kastanis, Public Policy Research Fellow at the Williams Institute, translating to about $150,000 in tax revenue.

While the State of Iowa has a waiting period of three business days in order to receive a marriage license, the report noted that "although couples have some options to circumvent the waiting period, it is possible that out-of-state same-sex couples spent up to an additional $1.6 million on tourism during their brief stay in Iowa."

Iowa State Senator Matt McCoy issued the following statement regarding the report:

"In the years since Iowa recognized marriage equality, our opponents have consistently tried to undermine equality for Iowa families citing supposed ill-effects of marriage for same-sex couples," said Senator McCoy. "This report is hard proof that marriage equality has had a positive impact on our state and that the hard line and hurtful stance against equality by opponents holds no water."

Leaders in the Iowa's LGBT community also were quick to endorse the findings of the non-partisan study.

"The Williams Institute report demonstrates once again that marriage equality has had, and continues to have, only a positive impact on our state," said Troy Price, Executive Director of One Iowa, the state's largest LGBT advocacy organization, in a press release to their supporters announcing the report's release. "These figures are more than dollars and cents; they represent people who are working today because of the historic Varnum ruling."

Local business owners and management also expressed satisfaction upon learning of the total economic impact for Iowa on Wednesday.

Don Short, owner of West End Salvage in Des Moines, has hosted approximately 20 weddings and receptions for gay and lesbian friends and customers who decided to get married in Iowa since 2009.

"Marriage equality has created a snowball effect that's had a positive impact on various industries," said Short during a phone interview on Wednesday. "Flowers, food service, catering, all the hotels downtown, not to mention the four to five employees here at my business who benefit by working at many of the events we host, making some extra money, and are able to share in the experience along with the couple."

Short added that while in the past he has shared many of the same positions as Republicans, their "reliance on social issues to drive the party's platform" has turned him off over the years.

"Marriage should be the choice of the two people involved and no one else," he said.

Sara Middleton, General Manager of Sbrocco Wine Bar and Wine Shop in Des Moines' Court Avenue District, also called the revenue opportunity created from additional weddings in Iowa "magical," while speaking during a phone interview from the restaurant.

"We saw the impact immediately," said Middleton, who is excited to see the business do well during a tough economy and relishes the unique opportunity to meet couples and their families who have come to Iowa from surrounding states because of the marriage law.

"I think it's great to have people come here and realize Iowa is not what they thought it was," said Middleton about the changing perceptions of Iowa since the ruling.

Reminded of Gingrich's characterization of gay marriage, Middleton laughed.

"That's pretty ballsy for him to say," she said. "The guy that's been married three times shouldn't be worried about same sex couples destroying the institution of marriage."

Michael J. Hunt is a political observer, trained in Oakland, based in the Heartland, and a frequent contributor to Off the Bus. If you would like to contribute as a citizen journalist to the Huffington Post's coverage of American political life, please sign up at www.offthebus.org.

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