Saturday, September 10, 2011

Marriage Equality would be good for Wyoming's soul...and her economy!

The economic and political windfall to Wyoming might be greater than you might think if the legislature joins other states permitting same-sex marriage. First we could reclaim the pride of being the “Equality State.”
Nearly all states have an official motto which serves as shorthand for what really matters to its people. My favorite is Serit ut alteri, North Dakota’s motto, meaning “one sows for the benefit of another age.” Many are expressed in Latin. Wyoming’s motto is plain English, “Equal Rights”
Wyoming became “the Equality State” as the first to grant women the right to vote. The powerful white males who made that call didn’t do so because of any deep commitment to the rights of women. The legislature didn’t even ratify the 19th Amendment until 26 other states had done so and the final outcome was inevitable. But they were practical men who understood women were needed in order to attain the requisite number of voters to qualify for statehood. It was not liberal reformers but practical and conservative Wyoming politicians who earned that motto. That was 1869. It’s time for conservative, practical legislators to earn it again.
There were practical benefits to giving women the right to vote. So there are in providing marriage equality. There are more than 1100 economic benefits available under law to heterosexual couples denied to same-sex couples. The economics of discrimination weigh heavily in favor of recognizing the validity of all marriages. Benefits denied range from spousal and child support to certain inheritance and property ownership rights. Most states, including ours don’t even protect the right to be employed for same sex partners.
The economic benefits of permitting same-sex unions would ripple throughout the state’s entire economy in surprising ways and amounts. A study conducted by the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law concluded Vermont’s recognition of same sex marriage will inject $30.6 million over three years into that state’s economy, generating increases in state and local government tax and fee revenues by $3.3 million while adding approximately 700 new jobs. Vermont has roughly the same population as Wyoming, depends as heavily on tourism and expects more than 8,000 same-sex couples to travel there as a result of the new law.
Imagine the international allure of Wyoming’s tourist destinations were legislators to open this new vista of freedom. Given our location near the center of the nation and reputation for environmental beauty, it’s not hard to believe Wyoming would experience an even greater fiscal windfall than Vermont.
Numerous studies, including one by the Brookings Institute, document the economic impact of state laws that eliminate discrimination against gays and lesbians who, as a group, tend to be creative entrepreneurs with larger than average amounts of disposable and investable income.
Marriage equality happens to have the added advantage of being the right thing to do. It seems conservative, libertarian, “live and let live folks” wouldn’t be inclined to allow government to determine who we can marry. But politics is a strange business where labels, like mottos, are beguiling. Same-sex marriage is often thought a “liberal” agenda. However, the belief that government should allow people to live free lives with minimal government intervention is, like Wyoming, quite conservative and the reasons for doing so persuasively practical.
There’s a curious thing about freedom. Governments create unexpected and positive economic, cultural and political rewards as they unleash the human potential of those who have been marginalized whether in Libya or in Wyoming.  Equality is a concept of liberty and freedom given definition only by historical context. Wyoming earned the right to be called “the Equality State” in 1869, one hundred forty-two years ago. Wyoming would do well to shed a reputation for intolerance acquired from the Matthew Shepherd murder and last year’s thorny debates in the legislature by once again taking a practical and conservative stand for equality.

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