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March 3, 2004

 

Testimony Of New York State Comptroller Alan G. Hevesi to New York City Council in Support of the Right to Civil Marriage for Same-Sex Couples in New York State

 

Good afternoon. Thank you for inviting me here today to present testimony in support of civil marriage for same-sex couples.

There are numerous arguments in favor of allowing gays and lesbians to marry in New York State. Perhaps the most profound is a recognition of our great country's history of moving ever closer toward ending all forms of discrimination, until we have created a society where all people truly are equal under the law, and are afforded all of the same benefits and protections. Acknowledging a common interest and belief in marriage, and expanding marriage laws to include all our citizens, underscores the importance of the institution of marriage, and testifies to its significance and value. Marriage contributes to the stability of our communities and allows us to strengthen and protect our families by giving parents the ability to provide for the security and financial well-being of each other and of our children.

As you know, I was one of the first publicly elected officials in New York State to support the right of same-sex couples to marry. But today, as the State's fiscal watchdog, I would like to focus first on the potential economic benefits to New York State that would accrue from extending the right to civil marriage to same-sex couples.

New York State is faced with severe budget challenges, and there are many ways in which our cash-strapped state would benefit financially from widening the pool of couples eligible for marriage. The most obvious of these is the reduction in public health care costs and the number of people dependent upon means-tested government benefits.

Marriage provides access to a spouse's health, social security, disability and death benefits, and the right to alimony and child support, all of which reduce both the number of people reliant on public assistance, and the number forced to seek medical care from state and city-funded emergency rooms and community health centers. Additionally, married couples assume joint responsibility for basic living expenses, debts, and liabilities, allowing the state to use a partner's assets and income to determine eligibility for state-funded public assistance programs.[1]

The Institute for Gay and Lesbian Strategic Studies estimates that within the State of California, even if only a small percentage of individuals living with partners were to marry, the State would reduce its expenditures on means-tested public assistance benefits by more than $11.5 million each year.[2] A study performed in Vermont calculated that even if only 1 percent of same-sex unions in the state involved someone who received public assistance and who would no longer be eligible after marriage, the potential savings to the state could equal almost $2 million over a five-year period.[3] A similar study in New Jersey suggests that savings to the State budget from the passage of a similar measure could equal between $46 million and $92 million each year.[4]

Providing financial security for the children of same-sex couples would further reduce the potential burden on the State and City of New York. Children of married parents have access to child support and alimony, and are eligible for health insurance coverage and survivor's benefits from a non-biological parent. All of these benefits reduce the number of children reliant on various forms of public assistance.

The protections afforded by marriage and divorce laws allow couples to engage in a division of labor that facilitates career specialization, often resulting in a higher family income. Without these protections, such as alimony and access to shared assets, the sacrifice of one partner's career for the furtherance of the other's presents a greater challenge. In addition, the pooling of resources facilitated and encouraged by marriage allows couples to make joint investments and purchases that might not otherwise be possible. Higher incomes and an increase in investments and consumer spending will all contribute towards the State's fiscal health.[5]

The ability of a greater number of New Yorkers to specialize and advance in a particular field will also allow us to compete more effectively in the global market. There is no greater asset in today's technology-driven economy than a highly skilled workforce. If we are to slow the exodus of jobs from New York State and revive our economy by attracting business and development, we must do everything possible to attract, develop, and retain highly skilled, well-trained workers.

In fact, a study prepared for the Software Industry Center at Carnegie Mellon University suggests that outsourcing jobs to third-world countries is a problem that is not as serious in the long-term as our failure to attract "creative class" workers to the United States. Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Belgium, and the Netherlands, all of which have either adopted equal marriage or created familial structures mirroring marriage, have considerable technological capabilities, and continue to succeed in developing creative talent. The authors of the report credit these countries' values and attitudes with their success in attracting creative, highly educated workers.[6]

Finally, there is an enormous potential for increased tourism revenue from the passage of a same-sex marriage bill in New York State. This is particularly true if we are successful in becoming among the first states in the nation to do so, making us the recipient of "first-mover advantage." If other states continue to prohibit same-sex marriage, couples from all over the nation will flock to New York to get married, in many cases inviting family and friends to join them.

A UCLA study found that with the benefit of first-mover advantage, tourism revenue in California resulting from the passage of a same-sex marriage law could exceed $4 billion in the five years immediately following legalization. The study was based on extremely conservative estimates. It assumed the number of gay men and lesbians in the United States to be somewhere between 1 and 3 percent of the general population, the rate of marriage among gay men and lesbians to be one third of the rate for the general population, and an average of only $6,000 of in-state spending from each marriage. A separate study estimated that passage of a same-sex marriage bill in Hawaii would generate a boost in tourist revenue of $4.3 billion over a 20-year period, generating $440 million in state and county tax revenues, thousands of jobs, and $2.4 billion in household wealth for the state's residents.[7]Given these figures, it is unsurprising to learn that tourism has increased dramatically in Ontario and British Columbia since the advent of same-sex marriage. Bed-and-breakfasts in Toronto report a business increase of 15 percent. In Massachusetts, the president of the Provincetown Business Guild estimates that marriage-related travel could boost business by as much as 50 percent in Provincetown, following the issuance of marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples.[8]

Even without first-mover advantage, New York has a large enough lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender population that significant tourism revenue would be generated from the influx of friends and families for weddings of in-state couples alone. There can be no doubt about the appetite for same-sex marriage in New York. A Same-Sex Wedding Expo in New York City last May attracted over 50 vendors-including American Express, Citibank, New York Life Insurance, and Bloomingdale's-and between 600 and 700 attendees. Additional tourism revenue would accrue from tourists who choose not to wed, but who want to show their support for our efforts to end discrimination against same-sex couples.

In addition to benefiting the state economy, allowing equal access to marriage would stabilize families by providing financial and emotional security, conferring legal protections, and enabling couples to act on each other's behalf. Among the 1,049 federal benefits and responsibilities afforded by marriage, in addition to hundreds more offered by New York, are: hospital visitation rights and the ability to make medical decisions in the event of a spouse or child becoming sick or disabled; family medical leave, bereavement leave, and access to a spouse's health insurance, disability, and pension benefits; automatic inheritance rights in the case of a spouse dying intestate; the right to inherit retirement savings tax-free and exemption from state property tax increases; the ability to give a spouse unlimited gifts without being taxed; creditor protection of a couple's marital home; the right to file joint tax returns and obtain joint health, home, and auto insurance policies; family discounts from employers, banks, insurers and businesses; the legal protections afforded in the case of a divorce; the right to spousal and child support, child custody, and visitation rights; the right to sue for wrongful death if a spouse dies as a result of medical malpractice or negligence; the automatic right to joint parenting, joint adoption, and joint foster care; and protection from having to testify against one's spouse in court.[9]

All of these rights and responsibilities contribute to the health and well-being of couples and families. In fact, studies have shown that a happy marriage is the best protector against illness and premature death. Married people live longer, have higher incomes and wealth, engage in less risky behaviors, eat more healthily, and have fewer psychological problems than unmarried people.[10]

Children who grow up in a family environment, loved, protected, and nurtured, become far more stable and successful as adults than children who grow up without such benefits, regardless of the sexual orientation of their parents.[11] Twenty years' worth of studies have shown that there are no notable developmental differences between children raised by heterosexual parents and children raised by lesbian and gay parents. For this reason the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychoanalytic Association, and the American Psychological Association have all issued formal statements supporting equal access to parenting and adoption for gay men and lesbians.[12]

According to the President of the Connecticut Council of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Dr. Julian Ferholt, "[Same-sex couples] do not differ [from heterosexual couples] as competent moral adults, as partners in committed relationships, or as parents, and their children have equally good mental and physical development, including sexual-orientation and identity."[13]

In fact, the only risk factor that is unique to the children of same-sex parents is the discrimination and stigma that they and their parents experience. The diminished social status that such arbitrary exclusion entails causes the same degree of suffering experienced by individuals who face racial, ethnic, or other forms of discrimination. Dr. Ferholt writes, "A child who knows that his parents are excluded from marriage experiences himself as part of a family that is not fully legitimate, and tends to think of himself as a less than legitimate person."[14] And unfortunately, many of the most important needs of children of same-sex partners do remain unmet, because access to health insurance coverage and other benefits are only available to married couples.

Not all of the benefits associated with marriage are tangible, however. Marriage is a public affirmation of love with well-recognized social significance, which is perceived by many to be a commitment, of the highest order, of one person to another.

Nationwide, gay and lesbian couples and families are living with the same love and commitment as heterosexual couples. They raise kids, share homes, and support and provide for each other. But they are doing so without the legal protections and support afforded to other Americans. They are left vulnerable as they try to piece together a patchwork of legal and financial documents to protect each other and their children, yet continue to remain at risk because many of the benefits from marriage cannot be gained by other means.

Extending the freedom to marry to same-sex couples will protect these families, and in so doing will reaffirm the strength, moral standing, and importance of marriage in our society. Promoting the support and security of all families strengthens our communities, and has the potential to provide significant financial benefits to all New Yorkers, the State and the City.

 



[1] Lee Badgett, Bradley Sears, Suzanne Goldberg, Supporting Families, Saving Funds: A Fiscal Analysis of New Jersey's Domestic Partnership Act, December 2003; Jennifer Gerarda Brown, Competitive Federalism and the Legislative Incentives To Recognize Same-Sex Marriage, Southern California Law Revenue, May 1995; R. Bradley Sears, Senate Appropriations Committee Testimony on AB 205, August 18, 2003; Christina MÜller, An Economic Analysis of Same-Sex Marriage, UniversitÄt Hamburg, Institute fÜr Recht und Ökonomik

[2] R. Bradley Sears, Senate Appropriations Committee Testimony on AB 205, August 18, 2003

[3] M. V. Lee Badgett, The Fiscal Impact on the State of Vermont of Allowing Same-sex Couples to Marry, October 1998

[4] Lee Badgett, Bradley Sears, Suzanne Goldberg, Supporting Families, Saving Funds: A Fiscal Analysis of New Jersey's Domestic Partnership Act, December 2003

[5] Lambda Legal web site, Denying Access To Marriage Harms Families, http://www.lambdalegal.org/cgi-bin/iowa/documents/record?record=1086; Christina MÜller, An Economic Analysis of Same-Sex Marriage, UniversitÄt Hamburg, Institute fÜr Recht und Ökonomik

[6] Ibid.

[7] Jennifer Gerarda Brown, Competitive Federalism and the Legislative Incentives To Recognize Same-Sex Marriage, Southern California Law Revenue, May 1995

[8] Sarah Robertson, Mining the Gold In Gay Nuptials, The New York Times, Dec. 19, 2003

[9] Why Marriage Equality Matters, Lambda Legal web site, http://www.lambdalegal.org/cgi-bin/iowa/documents/record?record=873; Marriage Equality USA, Get the Facts on Marriage, Marriage Equality web site, <http://www.marriageequality.org/facts.php?page=why_marriage_matters>

[10] Marriage Equality USA, Get the Facts on Marriage

[11] Dr. Robert Zavoski, President-elect of the Connecticut Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, Hezekiah Beardsley Connecticut Chapter newsletter, Dec. 9, 2002

[12] Connecticut General Assembly Office of Legislative Research, Backgrounder, October 25, 2002 < http://www.cga.state.ct.us/olr/2002Backgrounders/Gay_Parenting_0879.htm>

[13] Dr. Julian Ferholt, testimony before the Members of the Judiciary Committee of the Connecticut General Assembly, Dec. 8, 2002

[14] Ibid.

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