Britain approves same-sex marriage – is Australia missing out on a $161 million economic boost?

Businesses in Britain are gearing up for an economic boost, with MPs deciding yesterday to pass a bill legalising same-sex marriage.

The legislation is expected to be given the tick of approval from the head of state Queen Elizabeth II later this week and the first gay weddings will likely take place in mid-2014.

The legalisation of gay marriage will be a boost for businesses in the wedding industry such as florists, caterers, hotels, retailers and venues and it’s also likely to bolster the tourism sector, as people from Scotland and Ireland, as well as around the globe will travel to England and Wales to wed.

Which begs one question – how much of an economic benefit could Australia receive if it did the same?

According to at least one study, that figure could be as high as $161 million.

Gay couples are currently able to marry in 14 countries: France, The Netherlands, Spain, Canada, South Africa, New Zealand, Sweden, Portugal, Iceland, Denmark, Uruguay, Belgium and Argentina.

They can also wed in 13 states in the United States and parts of Mexico.

Australia is yet to make headway into legalising same-sex marriage, with the government having repeatedly voted down attempts to extend the institution to gay couples, and experts say Australia is going to be at an economic disadvantage.

In 2012-13 in Australia, IBISWorld figures indicate 119,000 heterosexual couples said “I do” and this resulted in $1.37 billion in revenue going to the food services industry, $1.1 billion being spent on flowers, stationary and other expenses and close to $1 billion spent on venue hire.

Research from the University of Queensland published in 2010 found 54.7% of Australian homosexual couples said marriage was their personal choice for relationship recognition, while 78% said they’d like the option to be available.

This research, combined with Australian Bureau of Statistics data which says in 2011 there were 33,714 same-sex couples living in Australia (as identified by the census data), has been used by analysts to estimate the potential economic boost legalising same-sex marriage would have on the Australian economy.

Conservative estimates calculated from the Williams Institute at UCLA in the US, an expert body in this field, suggest same-sex marriage would inject $161 million into the economy, this being calculated using the University of Queensland data and quartering the average cost of a heterosexual marriage, which is approximately $36,000.

Other estimates made by using the full $36,000 are closer to $740 million, and this does not account for overseas tourists.

The national director of the Australian Marriage Equality organisation, Rodney Croome, told SmartCompany there would be an immense benefit to the Australian economy from legalising same-sex marriage.

“These figures don’t include the wedding spend of foreign visitors to Australia, or the appeal marriage equality has to the global creative class, skilled migrants and investors.

“By refusing to allow marriage equality our politicians are not only violating human rights, they are depriving the Australian economy of a massive economic stimulus and robbing Australians of jobs,” he says.

One year on from New York’s legalisation of gay marriage, New York mayor Michael Bloomberg said at the time same-sex marriage had “helped create jobs and support our economy”.

Research was conducted by marketing firm NYC & Company and the City Clerk’s Office found $259 million in revenue was generated from the legalisation of same-sex marriage in its first year, with a large amount of money also spent by out-of-city guests on hotel rooms.

Croome says these results show the current predictions on the economic benefit to the Australian economy are accurate, but same-sex couples in Australia are now going overseas and contributing to other economies.

“Australians are going overseas, and they have been ever since Canada become one of the first countries to allow it, since 2003 and they will soon in greater numbers with Britain and New Zealand making it legal.

“The wedding spend of those couples, rather than being injected into Australia, will be injected into New Zealand, the US states and Britain,” he says.

Tourism New Zealand’s latest campaign is aiming to fly two Australians to NZ to become the first Australian same-sex couple to marry under the country’s new laws, in a move which is likely to see more and more Australian couples consider crossing the Tasman.

Croome says Australian politicians are effectively saying: “We don’t want this money spent here, we want it to be spent overseas to benefit foreign countries and create foreign jobs”.

“I think that it is incredibly irresponsible. Australia is now almost alone among developed English speaking countries.

“This not only deprives us of the wedding spend, but it sends a damaging message to the global creative class, skilled migrants and potential investors that Australia is backward and doesn’t value diversity and this will have an even greater negative impact on our economy,” he says.

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