UCLA study literally tries to sell gay marriage in Texas

UCLA study literally tries to sell gay marriage in Texas July 25, 2014

Help gays marry and boost the economy: That’s one of the newest pitches in gay rights circles. A new story in Houston Chronicle says legalizing same-sex marriage could boost state income by $180 million over three years.

The thorny issues are explored in this reprint from the Texas Tribune, a non-profit journalistic think tank. The story is interesting, intelligent and mostly fair to conservative and liberal sources alike. But it does leave a few questions.

The news peg is a study by UCLA researchers. It “predicts that more than 23,000 same-sex couples in Texas would marry within three years if the state allowed them to,” the article says. According to the study, those 23,000 couples would add nearly $15 million in sales tax over three years. And if Texas beat neighboring Louisiana and Oklahoma, the state might reap even more.

It’s a clever tactic, especially for a state that has fought gay marriage at least since Texas passed a constitutional amendment against it in 2005. Here’s a pro-gay reaction from the story:

The report, which applies Texas population data to a model based on states where gay marriage has been legalized, provides a financial argument for same-sex marriage, said Kevin Nix, a spokesman for Freedom to Marry, a gay rights group.

“There is a fiscal component, and there is also a families component,” he said. “Allowing gay people to marry is actually a conservative value. It’s about limited government and it’s about stronger families.”

And lookit that: two paragraphs from the opposition. I like The Texas Tribune already.

Gay marriage opponents have a different view. Jonathan Saenz, executive director of the socially conservative group Texas Values, said the study used a model that wouldn’t apply to Texas.

“For 10 straight years, Texas has been ranked as the top state for business. It’s no surprise that Texas has also defined marriage as between one man and one woman in its constitution during these same 10 years, since 2005,” Saenz said. “California, a state that performs homosexual marriages, is ranked as one of the five worst states for business in 2014. Case closed.”

We then get a reply from Christy Mallory, one of the authors of the UCLA study. (Yep, The Texas Tribune did more than read and parrot a press release.) Mallory says that business ratings use a “variety of factors,” not just marriage.

Much of the rest of the article recaps the struggle in Texas: Legislators have stopped every effort to legalize same-sex marriage, but a federal judge in San Antonio ruled against the constitutional ban (but stayed the effect of his ruling).

An insightful paragraph:

Gay marriage remains a polarizing social issue in Texas. The state’s Democratic Party has called for the complete repeal of laws that deny marriage rights to same-sex couples. But the Republican Party, which dominates state politics, supports marriage “only between a natural man and a natural woman,” and this year it endorsed “reparative therapy” for people “seeking healing and wholeness from their homosexual lifestyle.” The therapy has been dismissed by the American Psychological Association as having a “serious potential to harm” young people.

For that and other reasons, says The Texas Tribune, the most likely way for gay marriage to be legalized in the state will be via the U.S. Supreme Court — which won’t hear such cases until June. I’m dubious of the Tribune’s wording, though — saying the high court is “the most likely path” to gay marriage in Texas. As if that’s the desirable outcome.

Although the article didn’t mention it, Saenz addresses the business angle but not the family angle. Thousands of gays might marry in Texas, but would there be blowback from the 39 percent of Americans who don’t approve gay marriage? UCLA based its data model on states where gay marriage is legal. Did the data look at how conventional families decide whether to move to such states, or to vacation there?

It would also be interesting to hear opinions from religious groups, who have an oft-stated interest in the family unit. One would think their leaders would have opinions on the UCLA study — opinions as strong as those of Kevin Nix of Freedom to Marry.

I’m sure The Texas Tribune could have found a Baptist to comment; after all, the state has more than three million of them. There are conservative Baptists in this state and lots of progressives, too. Talking to both would have added depth.

Texas is also the second-biggest state for the Assemblies of God, one of the few American denominations that’s still prospering.

Journalists at the Tribune could have also asked Episcopalians or other mainline Protestants who favor gay marriage. Would their members elsewhere be more inclined to visit or move to a more gay-friendly Texas?

I was impressed with the revelation that Wendy Davis, the Democratic candidate for governor, has gotten funding from gay groups — and The Texas Tribune gives the numbers. In fairness, though, the Tribune should have said how much, if anything, anti-gay groups have given to the campaign of Greg Abbott, her Republican opponent.

For that matter, who paid for the UCLA study? And why did the researchers choose Texas as a subject? The Texas Tribune should have asked.

Despite the flaws and omissions, most of the Tribune article is measured and informative. If it shows any clear balance, it’s in favor of respectful dialogue. As the article says, even current Gov. Rick Perry — a week after a major gaffe about homosexuality — “stressed the need ‘to be a really respectful and tolerant country, to everybody.’ “

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