Anybody who has ever planned a big wedding has probably noticed that every aspect of it is expensive: The moment caterers, venues, chair-rental companies, DJs, etc, etc, etc, hear the word “wedding,” the prices seem to spike at least 20 percent. When you multiply that by the number of people on the guest list, the numbers add up. 

That’s bad news for young couples who are starting their life together underneath a considerable mountain of debt, but it’s great news from an economy that functions on people spending big chunks of money in a lot of different places. The wedding-industrial complex employs a number of people at all levels of the economy—staff at Men’s Wearhouse, bartenders, and otherwise-unemployable jazz musicians all sustain themselves through the wedding business. And then, of course, there’s sales tax on all of that activity. Which casts an interesting wrinkle on the question of gay marriage: How much of an economic impact would legalized gay marriage have on the Texas economy? 

It’s not the easiest question to answer for a few reasons we’ll get into momentarily, but at least one advocacy organization decided to go ahead and put a number on it, anyway, and that number is a bold $180 million:

Texas could add $180 million to its economy over three years if it allowed same-sex couples to marry, according to a study from the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law released Wednesday.

The study predicts that more than 23,000 same-sex couples in Texas would marry within three years if the state allowed them to. The legalization of gay marriage would mean a surge in gay weddings, the study estimates, creating a nearly $15 million boost to sales tax revenue over three years. The economic impact would likely be greater if Texas extended marriage rights to gay couples ahead of neighboring states like Louisiana and Oklahoma, because the state could become a wedding destination for same-sex couples, said Christy Mallory, one of the study’s authors.

The report, according to the Texas Tribune, “applies Texas population data to a model based on states where gay marriage has been legalized.” That may not be the most scientific way to calculate things, though, as it assumes that the percentage of gay couples is flat across the states. There’s at least a strong anecdotal argument that suggests that gay folks might leave Texas for states like California, New York, and Massachusetts, where gay marriage is already legal and the gay communities don’t have to worry as much about, say, police violently raiding gay bars or being the victims of hate crimes. It’s also likely that some of the couples who married in those states were Texans who held the sort of destination weddings that Mallory’s study suggests would occur here.

Still, all that really means is that there are reasons to doubt that $180 million is anything better than a good guess—the fact that a substantial number of people would get married in Texas if gay marriage were legal in the state, and that they would spend a lot of money on those weddings because weddings are expensive, is a compelling argument. 

But Jonathan Saenz, executive director of Texas Values—a group that opposes gay marriage—offered his counter-argument. 

“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.”

He’s not incorrect in noting that the ranking of Texas as a top state in business does correlate to the time period in which gay marriage has been banned by the Texas Constitution, but it’s either disingenuous or ill-informed of him to imply a causal relationship between the two. (For perspective, the ten years that Texas has been ranked as a top state for business also correlate to the time that recently-released Dallas Cowboys pass rusher Demarcus Ware spent with the team; there is no sign of the economy tanking now that Ware has signed with the Broncos.) 

In fact, there’s an argument to be made that businesses prefer to be in places where gay marriage is legal. In 2012, as Washington State legislators were voting on gay marriage, major corporations based in the state including Starbucks and Microsoft expressed support for the bill for competitive reasons, as reported by the New York Times

In Washington State, where same-sex marriages are scheduled to begin June 7 unless opponents gather enough signatures to force a referendum, major employers have been sounding similar themes. Starbucks said in January as the state Legislature was considering allowing same-sex marriage that it “strives to create a company culture that puts our partners first, and our company has a lengthy history of leading and supporting policies that promote equality and inclusion.” Microsoft , the first Fortune 500 company to provide same-sex domestic partnership benefits in 1993, said, “Washington’s employers are at a disadvantage if we cannot offer a similar, inclusive environment to our talented employees, our top recruits and their families” as states that permit same-sex marriage. “Employers in the technology sector,” it went on, “face an unprecedented national and global competition for top talent.”

In other words, businesses may want to attract employees who may be drawn to places where gay marriage is legal, according to the Times. “There’s mounting evidence that a state’s support for same-sex marriage yields important benefits for business, especially with the younger, highly educated, affluent population avidly courted by most employers,” the paper wrote.

None of that, of course, is factored into the $180 million that the Williams Institute says would be added to the Texas economy by the legalization of gay weddings. In any case, it’s hard to imagine this economic argument persuading the Texas Lege to change its position on the issue—though it’s also becoming increasingly clear that this is more like to be decided by the courts than the legislature, both in Texas and elsewhere, so perhaps we’ll see if the Williams Institute’s study has it right regardless of what the legislature thinks. 

(image via Flickr)