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High Court Decision Rings Wedding Bells for States' Coffers

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Straight couples may not be getting married as much as they used to, but the wedding business is going to get a bump from same-sex marriages that should keep the cash registers ringing.

Gay weddings are expected to see an increase nationwide that could infuse nearly half a billion dollars into state economies after the Supreme Court this week paved the way for legal same-sex marriage in 11 more states, experts say. Another five states are expected to soon allow gays and lesbians to wed after a federal court in California on Tuesday struck down gay marriage bans in the area it oversees.

Those in the wedding business correctly predicted a surge of same-sex couples heading for the altar after the nation’s high court struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act in mid-2013. They anticipate these new events to have an even bigger effect.

“The main impact we’re seeing is that more couples are getting married,” said Lee Badgett, an economics professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and a senior scholar at UCLA’s Williams Institute, a pro-gay think tank that researches the LGBT community. “There was a definite bump once that decision came out last summer.”

“The main impact we’re seeing is that more couples are getting married.”

Beyond that increase, new research from the Williams Institute estimated that same-sex wedding business in the 16 states affected by the recent court decisions over the next three years will generate $467 million in spending. That’s based on the number of gay couples already living in those states and not on assumptions about gay couples crossing state lines to wed.

“There’s definitely a major rise in same-sex weddings,” said Shai Tertner, president of event- and wedding-planning company Shiraz Events, who estimated that his same-sex wedding business doubled following the DOMA ruling and said his gay clients spend as much on their weddings as straight ones.

But based on national statistics, Tertner’s clients might be outliers. His three U.S. branches are in New York City, Miami and Los Angeles — all cities that make The Knot’s list of the top 25 priciest places to get hitched. Nationwide, same-sex couples spend an average of $15,849 on their weddings, according to The Knot. That’s a little more than half the $29,858 straight couples spent, on average, in 2013.

Fewer Guests, But That May Change

Same-sex weddings tend to have an average of 61 fewer guests, and today’s gay newlyweds also tend to skew older, likely a response to pent-up demand, said Jamie Miles, editor of TheKnot.com. As more young same-sex couples reach the age when their straight peers are marrying, it’s likelier their weddings will get bigger and incorporate elements more associated with straight nuptials like engagement rings and reception after-parties, she said.

“I think they’ll be more excited to have a larger wedding similar to a heterosexual couple,” she said. This is good news for the wedding industry, since same-sex couples spend an average of $205 per guest, nearly the same as the $220 per guest that straight couples spend.

The economic impact of these marriages has the potential to ripple well beyond the festivities, too. The Williams Institute estimated that those 16 states will collect an additional $39 million in sales tax revenue over the next three years on same-sex wedding spending.

The legal protections that marriage provides will also encourage more same-sex couples to put down roots and buy houses, have kids and invest for a joint future together, Badgett said.

In a Williams’ study five years after same-sex marriage became legal in Massachusetts, she said couples were asked about having kids.

“Some of them said we would not have had children if we hadn’t been allowed to get married,” she said. “Any long-term investment is more likely now.”

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