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Home » PEOPLE AND PLACES » MASSACHUSETTS » Love Does Not Discriminate
David Schermacher and Todd Wagar of Ptown Parties
Love Does Not Discriminate

Part 5 - Potential Economic Benefits in Allowing Same-Sex Marriage

By Mark B. Oliver | October 18, 2010

Previous Article in this Series

In the penultimate article in our series, ONE investigates whether there has been an economic impact of allowing same-sex marriage in Massachusetts.

A White Wedding Reception

As any married couple knows, weddings require considerable preparation: the date must be selected with care to ensure guests can attend, flowers need to be bought, attire agreed upon, locations scouted and booked, catering arranged and rings lovingly selected.

In its 2008 study, the Williams Institute of UCLA examined the impact on the Massachusetts budget of extending marriage to non-resident same-sex couples. The institute found that such an extension would boost the state economy by $111 million over three years, and state and local revenues would be increased by over $5.1 million over the same time period.

These seem like impressive figures, but are they accurate? The Institute took into account the number of same-sex marriages that had taken place in Massachusetts in the three years that followed the first issuance of marriage licenses in May 2004 (approximated to be 44 percent of all same-sex couples in the state). They also factored in Vermont’s experience after legalizing civil unions to estimate that approximately 50 percent of same-sex couples in the United States would marry if allowed to do so.

By excluding California (whose resident same-sex couples were at that time allowed to marry) and by taking into account relevant factors, such as those states that permit same-sex marriage, the estimated proximity of same-sex couples to Massachusetts and the recognition of out-of-state marriages in states like New York, the Institute estimated that a total of 32,200 same-sex couples would travel to Massachusetts to marry in the three years following the removal of the restriction.

Rachael Kelley and Roy Martin at Jack Martin and James Murdock's Wedding

Massachusetts’ town clerks record marriage licenses granted to same-sex and opposite-sex couples separately. These records show that the number of licenses granted to same-sex couples in 2008 and 2009, the first years after non-resident same-sex couples were granted the right to marry in the state, matched or even outpaced the number of licenses granted between 2004 and 2007, despite the fact that most resident same-sex couples who wished to marry had already done so. This growth has been most evident in tourist towns like Provincetown, but the Institute’s predictions have largely been borne out.

The Institute’s figures require greater scrutiny, however, when it comes to what each couple was expected to spend. The Institute “conservatively” estimated that couples from neighboring states would come to Massachusetts for two days and one night, generating $435 in tourism spending, and that those from further afield would spend $1,000 over four days. Additionally, the Institute estimated that a further $2,942 would be spent on the wedding itself, or 10 percent of the projected average cost of a wedding in the United States. The Institute made this assumption because of the logistical complexities of organizing an out-of-state wedding. Finally, the Institute did not take into account any spending by guests.

The Institute seems to have failed to take into account the ability of individuals to organize a “complex” wedding from a distance — many couples, irrespective of sexual identity, arrange such weddings, and it is usual for at least one family, if not both, to have to travel to the wedding. The American entrepreneurial spirit has also led to the establishment of businesses catering to such needs.

One such business is Ptown Parties, which was established in 2002 by businessmen David Schermacher and Todd Wagar. Acutely aware of the lack of businesses able to support weddings in the Provincetown area, they actively built up this aspect of their business alongside catering cocktail and dinner parties and other events. Since the state’s issuance of marriage licenses to same-sex couples two years later, Ptown Parties’ wedding catering services have accounted for 50 percent of the business’ revenue.

“What has been interesting to me,” says Dave, “is that the number of opposite-sex marriages that take place in Provincetown and the surrounding area has increased significantly since 2004. I think that prior to that time, we were one of the few businesses able to assist engaged couples, but the growth in the wedding service industry has allowed both same-sex and opposite-sex couples to marry in this beautiful part of the country with relative ease.”

Wedding Guys

Most people, irrespective of sexual orientation, seem to want to get married as a demonstration of their love and commitment to each other, with their family and friends present. While the size of the party might vary considerably, the lone couple marrying in Las Vegas would appear to be the exception rather than the norm. By disregarding the potential spending of any guests, the Institute’s figures appear to significantly underestimate the economic benefits that non-resident same-sex weddings bring.

James Murdock and Jack Martin had 95 guests attend their wedding, and around 60 watched Betsy Reese and Darla Himeles exchange their vows. Among the many guests at Betsy and Darla’s wedding were Florence and Edwin Goff, who stayed in Provincetown for four nights, enjoying everything the town had to offer. They experienced “one exceptional meal after another,” according to Florence, their son went whale watching, and they considered the shops, galleries and the Provincetown Modern Art Museum to be other highlights of their visit.

Jody Cohen and her daughter Jessye stayed in Provincetown for just the night of the wedding before moving on to Wellfleet.

“Provincetown is great,” states Jody emphatically. “There’s so much going on and such high energy. It’s both natural and human-made, and as my daughter (who came to the wedding with me) said, it’s cute but not cutesy, touristy but real.”

Kyle Mackay and Lauren Tardy, a young couple, were married at a Unitarian church in Plymouth in September, and they too, planned a large wedding.

The evidence of what same-sex couples are spending on their weddings seems to far outstrip the Institute’s estimates. But how much do local businesses now rely on this spending, and what would happen if same-sex marriage were banned once again in Massachusetts? ONE investigates the likelihood of this possibility and the potential economic fallout in the sixth and final article in this series next week.

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