‘Three words that will save the economy: Gay. Bridal. Registry.’ You may have seen this catchphrase floating around social media in the past few weeks, months or even years. It was made famous by a hand-made placard at a 2009 protest against Proposition 8, the constitutional amendment which eliminated the rights of same-sex couples to marry in California. Despite problematically reinforcing the camp and consumerist gay male stereotype, there is inherent truth to the slogan. The wedding industry is huge; in Australia it is worth over $4 billion and employes over 50,000 people. The average Australian wedding costs more than a whopping $36,000. Interestingly there are no companies with a dominant market share and small businesses characterize the industry. Market research from IBISWorld finds that ‘[d]emand for wedding services depends mainly on the number of marriages in Australia’. Discrimination is ensuring that same-sex weddings remain an untapped market.
Typical wedding services frequently overlap with tourism; weddings take place in hotels, resorts and wineries that double as luxury tourist destinations. With the high Australian dollar negatively impacting upon international tourism, and with large numbers of Australians flocking overseas rather than interstate for cheap vacations, weddings are a crucial support to the tourism industry. What’s more is that the spending frenzy extends far beyond the wedding day itself. There are rings to be bought (both engagement and wedding), engagement parties, engagement presents, hens and bucks nights, guest accommodation, clothes, shoes, accessories and the infamous gift registry. (Not to mention the honeymoon and all the bookings, flights, accommodation, and gear which comes with that!) The list is endless and, even with the rise in online shopping, supports the Australian retail and service sectors.
Same-sex marriage has the potential to boost Australia’s wedding industry and, in turn, lagging sectors of the economy. A 2010 study by the Williams Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles School of Law found that same-sex marriage would pump over US$600 million into the Californian economy and provide more than US$64 million in additional tax revenue over six years, though this would reduce as the initial backlog of previously banned marriages dissipated. Professor Lee Badgett, economist and co-author of the study, has crunched the numbers and conservatively estimates that same-sex marriage could add $161 million to the Australian economy over three years.
While our politicians remain opposed, Australia loses out as many couples head overseas to tie the knot. Argentina, which previously limited marriage to its own citizens, now allows foreign couples to marry in Buenos Aires and some provinces, reportedly following Greens Senator Sarah Hansen-Young’s request for an exception to be made on ‘compassionate grounds’. Same-sex marriage has been legal in the predominantly catholic country since 2010. New York City is actively trying to capitalize on wedding tourism launching the ‘nyc i do’ campaign in 2011 which offers comprehensive advice for interstate and foreign visitors seeking to marry in New York. Countries, states and regions which have legalized same-sex marriage, and where foreigners can marry, will benefit from Australia’s restrictions.
By denying same-sex couples the right to marry Australia is missing a valuable opportunity to boost its retail, tourism and service industries. If arguments of basic equality and civil rights fail to convince you, think of the jobs and think of the economy!
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