The Dollars and Cents of Gay Marriage

By Francis, David R. | The Christian Science Monitor, August 3, 2004 | Go to article overview
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The Dollars and Cents of Gay Marriage


Francis, David R., The Christian Science Monitor


Gay marriage challenges society. It roils contemporary politics and raises moral objections for some. But on economists' screens, it barely registers.

That's because legalizing gay marriage isn't that costly in economic terms. In fact, research suggests it should save money for federal and state governments. And for corporate America, the costs of extending benefits to the partners and families of gay employees are small.

Did you ever wonder why more and more companies, state and municipal governments, and colleges and universities are granting benefits to gay workers' partners and children? One big reason: It's cheap. On average, it would add 1 percent - 2 percent tops - to employers' benefit costs, says Susan Sandler, editor of a newsletter, HRfocus, for the Institute of Management and Administration in New York.

Demographics partially explains this modest impact. More than 96 percent of firms would face no additional costs for healthcare benefits, largely because most businesses would not have an employee married to a same-sex partner. That figure comes from a study released by the Institute for Gay and Lesbian Strategic Studies, an Amherst, Mass., think tank, and Human Rights Campaign (HRC), a Washington group seeking equal rights for lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgender people. Large firms, with more than 500 employees, would see an average increase in costs of just under $25,000 per year on average.

Already, nearly 7,500 employers extend such benefits, the HRC reports. A new survey of 459 firms by the Society for Human Resource Management in Alexandria, Va., found 39 percent providing domestic- partner benefits.

As for the financial impact on the government, a Congressional Budget Office (CBO) study found that if gay marriage were allowed throughout the United States, it would "improve the [federal] budget's bottom line to a small extent: by less than $1 billion in each of the next 10 years." (That wouldn't make much of a dent in a deficit expected to exceed $400 billion this year.)

The CBO calculates that same-sex couples would boost Social Security spending, because the partner of a deceased worker would receive 100 percent of the worker's benefit.

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