Florida, please read this and weep. On July 24, 2012, exactly one year after the enactment of the Marriage Equality Act, City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn announced that same sex-marriages in New York City have generated an estimated $259 million in economic impact and $16 million in city revenues. At least 8,200 same-sex marriage licenses (not every same-sex couple chooses to identify that way) were issued in the first year, accounting for more than 10 percent of the 75,000 marriage licenses issued in New York City since July 24, 2011.
Their report includes the fact that more than 200,000 guests traveled from outside of New York City to same-sex marriage events and more than 235,000 hotel room nights were booked at an average daily room rate of $275.
Did some of those out-of-towners come from Florida? You bet they did. While performing the marriages of two Orlando couples who came to New York City specifically to be married, I began to wonder about the extent of lost revenue for Florida because of its pig-headed refusal to get ahead of the inevitable same-sex marriage ball. In the area of economic impact, Florida’s same-sex marriage advocates are not asking local homophobes to change their hearts and minds; they are merely asking them to accept a piece of the rich pie that is same-sex marriage and to stop letting New York City eat Florida’s lunch.
Comparisons between Florida and New York are not difficult. Sales tax rates and hotel tax rates are similar. Both are tourism destination states. While the cost of a hotel room in New York City may exceed that of a similar room in Fort Lauderdale, the tourism multipliers are the same, with some marriage requirements in Florida actually boosting the potential revenue. For example, in Florida there is a three-day minimum wait between the acquisition of a marriage license and the actual wedding. In New York, that wait is only 24 hours. This means that out-of-towners coming to Florida for marriage will need longer visits than those coming to New York. Longer visits mean more hotel room nights, more restaurant meals, etc. Also, the cost of a marriage license in Florida is $98, more than twice the $40 cost of a New York City license.
There are other geographic considerations that should also cause Florida citizens and legislators to get on the same-sex marriage bandwagon before other southern states. New York’s neighbors Connecticut and Massachusetts also permit same-sex marriage and do not lack for pretty venues attractive to same-sex couples seeking the perfect setting for their special day. A picturesque bed-and-breakfast in bucolic western Connecticut? A seaside guesthouse in Provincetown? Same-sex couples in New England have many options within driving distance to New York City. If Florida could get the jump on New Orleans, Savannah and Atlanta, the height of potential out-of-state revenue is staggering. If ever there was a reason for feisty and liberal Key West to revive its fondness for being the “Conch Republic,” this is it.
Was the extent of the economic impact of same-sex marriage in New York anticipated? No. I reviewed a June, 2007 study titled Love Counts released by the New York City Comptroller. That study predicted numbers for the first three years post legalization, but by dividing apples into oranges in order to compare their predictions to the actual year-one numbers, the analysis shows that real revenue significantly exceeded expectations from five years ago.
The cynical among you who will scoff at the dream of legalizing same-sex marriage in Florida where Obama’s support for it may impact his chance of success in a swing-state, should learn that Florida public opinion has changed drastically since November 6, 2008 when 62% of the vote approved the constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. The polls show a steady conversion toward approval of marriage equality and that today, only a very small plurality would still deny same-sex couples recognition, with a large number in the undecided camp. While the prevalent strategy to defeat these constitutional amendments is a national/team push against DOMA and the legality of all state constitutions that ban same-sex marriage, Florida activists would do well to publicize the New York numbers gleefully announced jointly by its Republican Mayor and lesbian Speaker. While haters may never be persuaded to accept us into their hearts, accepting us into their wallets ought to be an easier sell.