There are hundreds of millions of dollars on the line in Hawaii's decision over whether to legalize same-sex marriage.
Hawaii is one of the latest battlegrounds in the push for marriage equality in the United States. Freedom to Marry, the gay-rights advocacy group, is focusing its efforts for this year and next on Hawaii, along with Illinois, New Jersey, and Oregon. And gay marriage advocates just got a big boost with a new report from the University of Hawaii that shows that legalizing same-sex marriage could bring in nearly $217 million in tourist spending to Hawaii's economy, from weddings and honeymoons combined.
Marriage is pretty big business in Hawaii as is. In 2012, according to the study, the average U.S. visitor who came to Hawaii to marry spent $259 per day in the state, with an average stay of 10.36 days. That business would see a huge increase if same-sex marriage was legalized. In total, they estimate visitor spending by nonresident same-sex couples would be $9,774,000 between 2014 and 2016, if a law is approved. They think that out-of-state guests would spend $28,572,000 in that time-frame, and that same-sex, nonresident couples would spend $35,298,000 on honeymoons. Lastly, they expect multiplier spending of nearly $143 million. The researchers also believe that there'd be a $10.2 million bump in tax revenues.
It isn't all good news for Hawaii, though. Same-sex marriage isn't yet legal, and right now the state just provides civil unions. So the report came with a warning. "The additional gains in visitor spending are time sensitive," the researchers write. "Spending by U.S. same-sex couples and their guests on honeymoons and marriages will be diverted to other states until Hawaii recognizes marriage equality." The state Legislature isn't currently scheduled to return to business until January 2014.
Hawaii isn't the only state that is looking to gain from same-sex marriage. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo started a marriage-tourism campaign soon after the Supreme Court decision to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act. The average wedding cost in Manhattan in 2012 was $76,678, so turning New York into a "destination wedding" state would be huge for city (and state) businesses.
Many in Hawaii, which has already seen a jump in tourism this summer, want a piece of that. A poll from early 2013 showed that 55 percent of the state's voters support legalizing same-sex marriage, with only 36 percent opposed. And Hawaii is unlikely to be the last to make this economic argument for marriage.