Marriage equality expected to boost local economy
Earlier this month Rhode Island became the 11th state in the union to allow same-sex marriage. Since then Delaware and Minnesota have been added to that total. While the passage of the legislation in Rhode Island was seen as a human-rights triumph by supporters, the new law is expected to have a profound economic impact on the state, which has been going through a difficult time financially.
Gov. Lincoln Chafee made marriage equality a centerpiece issue for his administration when he announced his support for the legislation during his 2011 inaugural address. In an op-ed piece for the New York Times that was published the day before the final House vote on the issue, Chafee stressed the importance of the bill in terms of the state’s economy.
“Many experts have found evidence of a strong correlation between tolerance and prosperity, particularly in high-tech sectors,” Chafee said. “The point is not simply that we are welcoming to gay people, though we are. It is that we want to welcome everyone.”
Chafee said that the talented workers who are driving the new economy – “young, educated and forward-looking” – want to live and work in a place that reflects their values.
“They want diversity, not simply out of a sense of justice, but because diversity makes life more fun,” he said. “Why would any state turn away the people who are most likely to create the economies of the 21st century?”
U.S. Rep. David Cicilline represents Jamestown in Washington, D.C., as part of the state’s 1st congressional district. He is one of the few openly gay members of Congress. Cicilline’s advocacy on the marriage-equality issue goes back to his days as a representative in the Rhode Island State House, and more recently his time as mayor of Providence.
Cicilline said that given the state’s founding tradition of freedom and tolerance – and the fact that Rhode Island was the only New England state not to allow gay marriage – it was time to pass the legislation as a matter of public policy.
He also agreed with the governor’s assessment of the economic value of the new law.
“There’s the obvious value to industries like travel and tourism that benefit from a greater pool of customers,” he said. According to Cicilline, the “new 21st century economy” focuses on entrepreneurship and creativity, and it’s led by a younger generation.
“A lot of these young people care what kind of message it sends that a state has full marriage equality,” he said.
Cicilline says the message is that Rhode Island is a welcoming place that wants to attract creative minds. He cited that as a reason the legislation was supported by chambers of commerce, as well as many business leaders.
“The governor is right that it speaks to what kind of place Rhode Island is,” he said. “It creates a better kind of environment to attract business investment.”
Evan Smith of Jamestown is president of Discover Newport. The organization’s mission is to promote the nine towns of Newport and Bristol counties for business and leisure travel. Smith said his organization is encouraged by the opportunities presented by marriage equality. He pointed out that Discover Newport has been marketing to the gay and lesbian community for the last 15 years. It will also participate in the first same-sex marriage trade show this summer.
Smith expects that Discover Newport will increase its commitment in terms of marketing to the gay community.
“Gay and lesbian travelers are affluent travelers,” he said. “They’re sophisticated cultural travelers. They appreciate the arts, history and culinary pursuits, in other words many of the things that are the inherent fabric of our destination. We have been trying to present the destination as not only a great place to visit, but maybe a great place to live.”
Smith pointed out there are more than 1,200 marriages a year in the area, and that while the marriage industry is robust, there will now be even more of an opportunity to expand the hospitality industry through same-sex marriage.
Smith’s belief in the benefits of the legislation was such that he decided to go to the State House and testify during a hearing on marriage equality. He arrived in Providence at 4 p.m., but after six hours he realized that he probably wasn’t going to get a chance to be heard. As it turned out, the hearing continued until 4 a.m. Instead of verbal testimony, Smith submitted a letter in support of the economic aspects of the legislation.
“In the past the opportunity for same-sex couples to look at Rhode Island as a potential marriage place just wasn’t on the table,” he said.
According to Smith, same-sex couples that are looking across the American landscape are hoping to get married in their home state or have a destination wedding. With marriage equality in place as of Aug. 1, both of these needs can be met. Same-sex couples from Rhode Island can get married in their home state, and out-of-staters looking to tie the knot are welcome, he said.
While Smith expects some increase in the area’s wedding business this year, the real effects of the law will start to be seen beginning in 2014, he says.
Town Council President Kristine Trocki, also a local business owner and a member of the Jamestown Chamber of Commerce, thinks the legalization of gay marriage will have a direct benefit to the island.
“I am proud that Rhode Island has chosen to be one of the leading states on the issue of marriage equality,” she said. “Jamestown is beautiful and will attract couples marrying, thus generating revenue from weddings and all they entail.”
She mentioned licensing fees, accommodations, restaurants, venues, planners and florists.
“There are also positive economic implications in the legal areas of estate planning, probate, health and retirement benefits, pensions, family law, and spousal coverage under Medicare and Social Security, just to name a few,” she said. “Creating a tolerant business environment will attract employees that are happy in their home life and invite technology, talent and tolerance to our communities. This is a win-win natural progression for our independent forward-thinking state.”