Same-sex marriage could save the US $1b annually, says economist M.V. Lee Badgett

By Patrick J. Callahan

The Congressional Budget Office reports that allowing same-sex couples to marry would have a positive impact on the federal budget, producing a savings of nearly $1 billion per year, says M.V. Lee Badgett, associate professor of Economics. The CBO report confirms recent findings from state-level studies conducted by the Institute for Gay and Lesbian Strategic Studies (IGLSS), which is affiliated with UMass Amherst, and the Williams Project at UCLA Law School, Badgett says.

The CBO found that allowing same-sex couples to marry would boost federal income tax revenues by $400 million per year until the end of the decade, mainly because of the so-called “marriage penalty.” Social Security payments would rise over time, as would spending on spousal health insurance benefits for federal workers. Other expenditure items would be much lower, however, since spending on Medicaid and supplemental Security Income (SSI) would fall. The net impact would be a federal budget savings of nearly $1 billion per year, the CBO report says.

These findings parallel the conclusions of recent studies that were conducted by IGLSS and the Williams Project about the impact of granting marriage and domestic partnership rights at the state level. The most recent study showed that California would have a net savings of $22 to $25 million per year if same-sex couples could marry. A 2003 study of New Jersey’s Domestic Partnership Act, which goes into effect in July, predicts that the state is likely to see a net savings of $61 million per year by giving same-sex couples rights.

“The CBO report adds to the growing weight of studies showing that same-sex
marriage makes sense from an economic perspective,” says Badgett of the IGLSS, who has authored or co-authored five reports on the fiscal impact of same-sex marriage. “Although most attention has focused on the benefits of marriage, this report reminds us that marriage involves responsibilities, too. Strengthening same-sex couples’ legal standing will reduce demands on federal and state budgets.”

“Rather than relying on stereotypes about gay and lesbian couples, the CBO
used the best data available on same-sex couples from Census 2000 to calculate their estimates,” says Brad Sears, the executive director of UCLA’s Williams Project and a co-author of the studies in California and New Jersey. “Applying the Census figures to individual states’ budgets would show many millions more in savings if same-sex couples could marry.”

The CBO study, which was requested by U.S. Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Ohio), is
available at www.cbo.gov. The IGLSS-Williams Project studies are available
at www.iglss.org and http://www1.law.ucla.edu/~williamsproj/home.html.