******TAKEN FOM THE DES MOINES REGISTER
Millions of dollars in tourism and tax revenue could flow into Iowa as a result of the Iowa Supreme Court's historic decision to legalize same-sex marriage, according to a range of scholars and business people.
The unanimous but controversial ruling announced Friday overturned a 10-year-old ban on same-sex marriage and made Iowa the third state where gay marriage is legal.
Iowa counties will begin to grant marriage licenses to same-sex couples as early as this month.
Unlike Connecticut and Massachusetts - the other states that permit gay marriage - Iowa has no nearby competitors for same-sex couples who want to marry.
Businesses could see $160 million in new wedding and tourism spending over the next three years, according to a study from researchers at the University of California at Los Angeles.
"Iowa pretty much has the Midwest all to itself," said Lee Badgett, a University of Massachusetts economist who co-authored the 2008 report. "It's in the middle of a lot of states that have a lot of same-sex couples. It's in a good position."
The study predicts that 2,917 same-sex Iowa couples will wed in the three years after the marriages are allowed to proceed. In addition, nearly 55,000 out-of-state couples could come to Iowa to get married, the study found.
The ruling also could attract newcomers to the state, although some cautioned that the long-term impact remains unclear.
Conservative critics argued that economics should not factor into an issue they view as an attack on traditional marriage and religious liberties.
Impact on Iowa's image - and on revenue
In Iowa, advocates celebrated the decision as a breakthrough for civil rights, while supporters of the Defense of Marriage law that was struck down said the court overstepped its authority.
With that debate lingering, the court's ruling probably will not turn Iowa into an instant haven for hipsters and intellectuals, said University of Iowa political scientist David Redlawsk. But over time, he said, the ruling could create an atmosphere that attracts younger residents and the so-called "creative class."
"It makes Iowa overall a more welcoming state," Redlawsk said. "That's a good thing from the standpoint of businesses who, frankly, are concerned about quality of life issues for their employees."
A University of Iowa Hawkeye Poll released Friday found that 58.7 percent of Iowans under age 30 support gay marriage, and three-fourths favor some formal recognition of gay relationships.
A Des Moines Register Iowa Poll in 2008 showed that although most Iowans believe marriage should be only between one man and one woman, a majority of Iowa adults also supported the creation of civil unions granting benefits to gay couples.
Same-sex marriage will yield an estimated net gain of $5.3 million per year for Iowa state government, according to the report from UCLA's Williams Institute, a nonprofit think tank that studies sexual orientation and public policy.
"It's not going to have a huge impact," Badgett said. "But the impact will be positive."
Fewer gays and lesbians in Iowa will qualify for public benefits such as Medicaid if they marry and combine incomes, the study found. Nearly 90 percent of same-sex married couples who file their taxes jointly also would pay more because of their higher earnings.
Sales tax revenue would rise because of increased spending on florists, hotels and other wedding expenses. The increases would offset the married gay couples who pay less or receive other marriage-related deductions, according to the study.
"What people care about right now are their pocketbooks," Redlawsk said. "The moral issues are just not as high on anybody's list right now, given the economic environment."
"Conservative" model of economic outcomes
Researchers at the Williams Institute projected similar increases for other states embroiled in the gay marriage debate. Most of the benefit comes from greater spending on wedding expenses.
Vermont stands to gain $30.6 million and 700 new jobs over three years if it were to legalize gay marriage, said UCLA law professor Brad Sears, the institute's executive director. Vermont lawmakers last week approved a bill to legalize gay marriage but fell just short of the margin needed to override Gov. Jim Douglas' promised veto.
Maine, where lawmakers are considering a bill that would allow gay marriage, would receive a $60 million boost and 1,000 new jobs in the same three-year period, he said. California's economy would grow by $683.3 million, which would create and sustain nearly 2,200 jobs. California had allowed gay marriage before a November voter initiative repealed it.
Researchers drew their estimates from a complex mix of U.S. census data, spending behavior in states that allow same-sex marriage, and the proportion of gay couples who actually married.
"Our model is pretty conservative," Sears said. "We're only estimating spending by the couples themselves. It doesn't anticipate gifts from guests or other spending."
Wedding planners said the ruling would likely boost their business during the tight economic times.
"It's definitely beneficial to our industry," said Dena Davey, a spokeswoman for the Connecticut-based Association of Bridal Consultants. "It's more business. Some consultants may not feel comfortable doing it, but I think the vast majority think it's wonderful."
Many consultants already help organize civil union and commitment ceremonies, Davey said. But "when it's an actual, legally binding wedding, it just makes it that much more exciting for couples."
Emily Andersen, a bridal specialist with Shaffer's Bridal in Des Moines, said same-sex couples account for a small fraction of their business. But with the court decision, she said, business could easily grow.
Pamela Chase, a Boston-area wedding planner, said gay and lesbian couples account for 20 percent of her client base. Business has dropped because of the economy, she said, but the legalization of gay marriage in Massachusetts has helped her plan an average of 15 weddings per year.
"There are four weddings I would not have had had the law not passed," said Chase.
Social conservatives: Ignore economics
Supporters of the 1998 Iowa law argue that the institution of traditional marriage outweighs any possible economic benefit.
"That was the same argument that was made for riverboat gambling and casinos," said Doug Napier, a lawyer for the Alliance Defense Fund, a Christian group based in Arizona. "I don't think these kinds of decisions need to be based solely on the basis of economic impact."
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who won the Republican presidential caucuses in Iowa last year, issued a statement saying, "All Iowans should have a say in this matter. ... It is my hope that the Legislature will take the necessary steps to properly resolve this matter."
U.S. Rep. Steve King, an Iowa Republican, warned in a statement Friday that the decision could turn Iowa into a "gay marriage Mecca" and called for a constitutional amendment to define marriage as between a man and a woman.
Iowa Gov. Chet Culver, an opponent of gay marriage in the past, said Friday he was reviewing the court's ruling. But there are significant hurdles to overcome to amend the Iowa Constitution.
The Legislature must approve a constitutional amendment during two consecutive sessions before the issue goes to a statewide ballot, meaning the earliest that could happen would be in 2012. Massachusetts has a nearly identical process.
"Opponents in Massachusetts couldn't do anything immediately," Redlawsk said. "As time went by, people realized that the sky hasn't fallen, the world hasn't ended."
Same-sex couples live in every county in Iowa but are most prevalent in Polk, Johnson and Linn counties, the statistics show.
Fewer than 1 percent of households in Iowa were home to unmarried same-sex couples in 2007, U.S. census data show. Nine states had a lower proportion of same-sex households.
Register staff writer Melissa Walker contributed to this report.
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