If Indiana legalized same-sex marriage, the state's wedding industry could see an estimated $39.1 million windfall in the first three years, according to a report released Tuesday by the Williams Institute.
At least one local retailer is excited by the profit potential. But a statewide business leader dismisses the economic effect as too small to sway the minds of those vehemently opposed to the idea of allowing gays and lesbians to marry.
The institute's report on Indiana follows a three-year series of studies it has issued on the potential economic effects in other states, including Utah, New Mexico, Rhode Island and Delaware.
Indiana's estimated economic benefit was in the middle of the pack of states studied so far. Researchers estimated higher benefits for Virginia, $60 million; Colorado, $50 million; and Oregon, also $50 million. Indiana's smaller population played a role in its lower estimated benefit, a researcher said.
The Williams Institute based estimates for each state on actual same-sex marriage rates in Massachusetts, which legalized gay marriage in 2004. Founded in 2001, the Los Angeles-based think tank conducts independent research on law and policy issues that affect the LGBT community.
Researchers started with the number of same-sex couples listed in Indiana in the 2010 census and the American Community Survey. Applying the 50 percent same-sex marriage rate observed in Massachusetts, they placed the number of expected Indiana same-sex weddings at 5,537.
Because same-sex couples might not get as much financial support from family to pay for weddings, the researchers factored in a modest 25 percent of the average Hoosier wedding price tag of $22,306 for each gay or lesbian marriage ceremony.
The report set the average out-of-state attendance per wedding at 16 based, again, on Massachusetts data.
It used U.S. General Services Administration numbers for food and lodging estimates, allowing one day of meals and one shared hotel room for each out-of-state guest.
The methodology all sounded reasonable to Kevin Brinegar, president and CEO of the Indiana Chamber of Commerce.
The nonprofit business advocacy group declined to take a position this spring when state legislators were debating whether to pass an amendment to define marriage as being between one man and one woman because the chamber's membership and leadership were both divided on the issue, Brinegar said.
The Williams Institute has generated reports in a seemingly random order based on which states have same-sex marriage-related ballot initiatives, court orders and general interest, said Christy Mallory, senior counsel and co-author of the latest report.
Greater Fort Wayne Inc., the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce, numerous individual business and academic leaders this year publicly opposed marriage-defining legislation, which they deemed unfriendly to gays.
From a strictly financial standpoint, they argued, such an amendment might prompt large employers to bypass Indiana when deciding to expand or relocate operations.
While the Williams Institute mentions that factor – and the opportunity for Indiana to attract same-sex couples living in bordering states to marry here – the study doesn't attempt to put a dollar figure on those potential economic benefits.
The impact that researchers were able to quantify averages out to $13 million a year for the first three years, a figure that Brinegar said “isn't a big number at all” compared with the state's $30 billion, two-year budget.
“This issue won't be decided based on economic impact and revenue,” he said.
Don't tell that to Indiana's small-business owners who depend on the wedding industry.
The prospect of tapping a new market excites Sara Keltsch, who owns The Monogram Shoppe and More.
“The impact would be phenomenal,” Keltsch said, adding that she already sells invitations for commitment ceremonies.
But if same-sex couples could legally marry in the state, the Covington Plaza retailer could also sell them cake toppers, attendants' gifts, guest books and more. Local bakeries could sell more cakes. Restaurants could book more rehearsal dinners. Caterers and reception halls could book more events. And hotels could fill more rooms.
“If (legislators) decided to pass it,” she said, “it would certainly be wonderful for my business … and all of the wedding industry.”