The cost of discrimination
Same-sex marriage isn't just about civil rights. It's about your money too

By Matthew Hirsch

As legal arguments in the same-sex marriage case got underway Dec. 22, City Attorney Dennis Herrera set out to convince the San Francisco Superior Court that discrimination against gays and lesbians affects all of us, not just the narrow interests of those couples wishing to get married. To help make the point, Herrera asked Controller Ed Harrington to examine just how much it costs to restrict marriage in San Francisco as a union between a man and a woman.

Harrington's conclusions were startling, especially because the city is laying off employees and cutting services in an effort to balance the budget. He estimated that a favorable ruling in the same-sex marriage case could boost the city budget anywhere from $15 million to $20 million a year.

Most of the estimated savings would come from having lower public health costs, including visits to city hospitals and health clinics. That's because same-sex couples are much more likely to be uninsured than married couples, according to recent studies by the U.S. Census Bureau and the National Center for Health Statistics. If same-sex couples were allowed to marry, Harrington reasoned, more of them would qualify for spousal health benefits.

The remaining increase to the city budget would come from additional fees for city services, sales tax revenues from the expected surge in weddings and honeymoon visits, and hotel tax revenues from nonresident weddings.

"The fact is that without full recognition of gay and lesbian families through marriage, San Francisco is limited in its ability to protect the equal rights of its citizens, and harmed in ways tangible and otherwise by an injustice that has no place in 21st Century California," Herrera contended in a written argument.

In other words, this city can't afford to discriminate against gays and lesbians even if it wants to. And it doesn't. A ruling on the same-sex marriage case is expected by mid-April.

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