AUGUSTA, Maine — Innkeepers and others who make their livings in Maine’s tourism and wedding industries headed to the Statehouse today to ask legislators to support a bill that would allow same-sex couples to marry in Maine.
They are expected to take part in a 10:30 a.m. press conference sponsored by the Maine Freedom to Marry Coalition, which is supporting the bill.
Jim Davitt, the owner of Nonesuch Farm Bed and Breakfast in Bangor, will be one of them. He and others will present lawmakers with a report estimating that same-sex marriage would boost the state’s economy by $60 million over three years.
Davitt, 67, said Tuesday he supports the bill for business and personal reasons.
“We get people from all over the world staying here — straight and gay,” he said. “We’ve had gay and straight guests here at the same time, and no one seemed to care. Passing the bill would be good for us and good for Maine.”
Davitt, a retired attorney, and his wife, Mary Lou Davitt, have run the farm on the Hudson Road for 19 years. Five years ago, they opened the bed and breakfast with four rooms that can accommodate up to eight people.
The Davitts also have a daughter who is a lesbian, another reason the couple supports efforts to allow same-sex marriage in Maine.
“I’ve been following the issue for a long time,” Jim Davitt said. “It strikes me if I remain true to my calling as an attorney and practice what I preach, I’ve got to stand up and make my voice count.”
Marc Mutty, spokesman for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland that opposes the bill, said Wednesday the decision about a culture shift as big as same-sex marriage should not be based on money.
“My reaction to the study, which by the way they are hauling out in every state that is dealing with the marriage issue, is that the financial impact of approving same-sex marriage in Maine should never be an influencing factor,” Mutty said in an e-mail response to a request for comment. “This is too major of a cultural change for our society to be decided on based on the purported financial gains. In the end, the question is what is best for our society, what best serves the common good and not what answer generates the most income.”
The study, produced by the Williams Institute in California, predicted that allowing same-sex marriage would increase spending in Maine in the wedding and tourism industries to the tune of $60 million in the first three years after the bill became law. The study also found that 1,000 new jobs would be created in the travel-related businesses.
“All loving, committed couples in Maine need and deserve the rights and protections of civil marriage,” Betsy Smith, executive director of EqualityMaine, said in press release issued earlier this month with the report. “At the same time, it’s important to take note of the economic benefits that can flow to Maine businesses and the state by ending discrimination against gay and lesbian families.”
The study also concluded that an additional $3.1 million in state local tax revenues would be generated as a result. Local municipalities would see income rise in marriage license fees by an estimated total of $539,193.
“In these difficult economic times, Maine families are suffering,” Shenna Bellows, executive director of the Maine Civil Liberties Union, said in the press release. “This report shows that when we end discrimination against gay and lesbian couples, we will also help get Maine’s economy working again.”
The Williams Institute is a think tank associated with the University of Los Angeles School of Law. Its mission is to advance sexual orientation law and public policy through rigorous, independent research and scholarship, and disseminate it to judges, legislators, policymakers, media and the public, according to information on its Web site.
The institute based its research on the 4,644 self-identified gay and lesbian couples under the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey for Maine. Researchers arrived at that number by averaging the numbers reported in the surveys for 2004, 2005 and 2006.
Based on figures from Massachusetts, whose Supreme Court five years ago ruled that barring same-sex couples from getting married was unconstitutional, the report estimated about half of same-sex couples in Maine would get married during the first three years it was allowed. Those couples would spend an estimated $4,641 each on their weddings, researchers estimated.
The report found that about 15,657 out-of-state couples, mostly from New York, would come to Maine to get married. They would spend $3,143 each on their weddings. The numbers do not include tourism benefits associated with families and friends of the couples.
Massachusetts has seen economic benefits, according to the organization that successfully challenged laws banning same-sex marriage in that state and Connecticut.
“Massachusetts had more than 9,000 couples marry in the first three years of including same-sex couples in the state’s civil marriage laws,” Lee Swislow, executive director of Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, said in the press release. “Not only do we have a lot of happy families who feel more secure because they are able to legally marry, we also have a flourishing wedding industry that brings money to businesses throughout the state.”
“In the end, it is clear that extending civil marriage to same-sex couples is not only the right thing to do, but offers many advantages to individuals, businesses and the state as a whole,” Smith said earlier this month.
The Rev. Bob Emrich of the Maine Marriage Alliance, a group of clergy and individuals who support traditional marriage and oppose same-sex marriage, said Wednesday similar studies by the institute have been used the same way in other states.
“It would be interesting to have an economist compare it to a study like [The Taxpayer Costs of Divorce and Unwed Childbearing] report, which shows Maine is losing $214 million annually from the breakdown of the family. Now is the time to strengthen the family, not further tear it apart.”
The study Emrich cited was produced by the Institute for American Values, the Institute for Marriage and Public Policy and similar groups. Released in April 2008, the report estimated the cost to taxpayers in every state for antipoverty, criminal justice and education programs.
Michael Heath, head of the Maine Family Resource Council, declined to comment on the same-sex marriage report because he had not read it.
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Using U.S. Census Bureau data about same-sex couples and drawing on the experience of Massachusetts and other states, it is estimated that during the first three years after same-sex marriage takes effect in Maine, the following will happen:
• About 2,316 couples living in Maine will marry.
ä About 15,657 same-sex couples from other states will travel to Maine to get married.
• Nearly $60 million will be spent in Maine’s wedding and tourism-related business sectors.
• An estimated 1,000 new jobs will be created in those business sectors as a result.
• About $3.1 million in state and local tax revenues will be generated from money spent on weddings and tourism by same-sex couples.
• An estimated $539,193 will be generated for local municipalities in marriage license fees.
Source: “The Economic Impact of Extending Marriage to Same-Sex Couples in Maine” To read the full report visit: http://www.law.ucla.edu/williamsinstitute/home.html