March 20, 2018
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Beyond Economics

Complex issues can hardly be discussed these days without groups commissioning an economic impact study to show why their position would be the most profitable. While such information is helpful, many decisions shouldn’t be made on the basis of economics.

Same-sex marriage is one such issue.

Proponents of a bill to allow same-sex couples to marry in Maine recently unveiled a study that said extending marriage rights to this group would add $60 million to the state’s economy over three years, while creating 1,000 jobs. Much of this new money would come from out-of-state couples that come to Maine to get married, spending money on hotels, meals and other tourism-related activities.

An additional $3 million in state and local tax revenues would be generated, and more than $500,000 would be collected in marriage license fees, according to the study by the Williams Institute at the University of California at Los Angeles School of Law.

While such an influx of revenues would be helpful, an issue as fraught with emotion as marriage shouldn’t be decided by how much more money the state, municipalities and businesses can collect.

Rather, legislators, who will soon consider the marriage bill, must make a decision based on equality.

In the landmark 1954 U.S. Supreme Court decision Brown v. Board of Education, the justices unanimously ruled that “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.” The ruling, that racial segregation violated the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitu-tion, led to the desegregation of schools and was instrumental in the civil rights movement.

The same logic, that separate is not equal, applies to marriage as well. Creating a separate type of legally recognized relationship for gay couples, while a positive step forward, is not the same as allowing them to marry. Such a scheme, therefore, falls short of constitutionally mandated equality.

On a totally different matter, this week Central Maine Power Co. unveiled an economic impact study of its proposed transmission system upgrades. The study, by Charles Colgan of the University of Southern Maine’s Center for Business and Economic Research, found the major upgrade would employ an average of 2,100 people annually for four years and contribute nearly $300 million to the state’s economy.

Again, whether this project goes forward should be based on its ability to improve the state’s electric power system, not how many temporary jobs it will create.

Will it reduce the risk of blackouts? Increase the state’s capacity to generate and export alternative energy? Answering these questions is far more important than how much money the construction project will leave behind.

Economic effects are relevant, but with complex issues such as these they are only a small part of a larger, more important discussion.

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