Nevada could cash in on same-sex marriages, report says

If Nevada were to legalize same-sex marriages, the state would see significant economic benefits, a new report released this week found.

In the first three years that same-sex couples could marry, Nevada’s wedding and tourism industries could see spending rise between $23 million and $52 million, which would raise state and local tax revenues between $1.8 million and $4.2 million, according to the report by The Williams Institute on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Law and Public Policy, a think tank at the University of California-Los Angles School of Law.

The institute tracked economic and census data from states that have legalized same-sex marriage and applied those trends to Nevada. If the Silver State follows suit, it could reap millions of dollars of taxable revenue, the report said.

Nevada has 7,140 same-sex couples living in the state, according to census data. If gay and lesbian couples married in Nevada at the same rate as those in Massachusetts a decade ago, half of Nevada’s LGBT couples would marry in the first three years, the report found.

The report also asserts that the rise in spending on weddings by residents and out-of-state guests would create up to 449 jobs — or one job for every $116,780 spent.

The report does not include figures of same-sex couples from out of state who would get married in Nevada.

Brian Mills, chapel general manager at Viva Las Vegas Weddings, said about 10 percent of their business comes from gay and lesbian couples getting commitment ceremonies. The company created a website, gaychapeloflasvegas.com, to get an edge on the competition.

Mills’ chapel has gotten a boost in business from LGBT couples who get married in other states but renew their vows at his chapel.

And while he knows of a handful of faith-based chapels that refuse to wed same-sex couples, Mills has friends who will refer them to his chapel, which he estimated makes about $350,000 a year from LGBT ceremonies.

“We’ll gladly take their business,” Mills said.

Ward Curtain, from the Freedom Nevada marriage equality organization formed this year, said it is important to highlight arguments people might not have heard before in support of same-sex marriage, such as the economic benefits.

“There are still undecided people,” he said. “And people are evolving on this issue everyday from all walks of life, and we have the chance to change some minds.”

And with recent court cases bringing legal same-sex marriages to more states, some in the gaming industry worry about being left out.

“These are smart-run facilities that realize we’re losing tourism money to places like California,” Curtain said.

These facilities include the Tropicana, Wynn Resorts, Caesars Entertainment and MGM Resorts International along with other local business leaders weighed in with their support.

“The New Tropicana Las Vegas has been providing commitment ceremonies for LGBT couples for several years and we are looking forward to the day that we can provide all loving couples the chance at happiness that comes with being married,” said Fred Harmon, chief marketing officer for the Tropicana, which also hosts a number of special events for the LGBT community.

“Las Vegas is the ‘Wedding Capital of the World,’ and we should welcome all committed couples,” Harmon said.

Currently the state of Nevada has multiple initiatives to remove the state’s constitutional amendment limiting marriage to heterosexual couples.

Senate Joint Resolution 13, a measure that would legalize same-sex marriage in Nevada, passed the Legislature last year. If the bill passes through the legislature again next year, the measure would go to voters in 2016 to be made into law.

“People who are pro SJR13 need to make sure they’re getting the right people in office,” said Nevada State Sen, Kelvin Atkinson, D-North Las Vegas, who gained national notoriety for publicly disclosing he was gay for the first time during the debates on SJR13. “We need to make sure we retain the majority in the Senate.”

Atkinson said same-sex marriage proponents cannot take for granted the support of state Republicans — who recently removed support of the ban from the state party’s platform — or that the issue will be resolved in the courts.

Nevada, like many states, has a pending court case.

The case, Sevcik v. Sandoval, was filed in U.S. District Court on April 10, 2012, by Lambda Legal. In November 2012, Judge Robert C. Jones upheld Nevada’s prohibition of same-sex marriage, finding that it does not violate the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

Lambda Legal then appealed to the 9th Circuit. Earlier this year, the state withdrew from the case due to a precedent that elevated the scrutiny applied to cases involving the LGBT community, leaving the defense of the ban to the Coalition for the Protection of Marriage — which successfully put the marriage definition into the state Constitution in 2002.

The 9th Circuit appeal hearing is scheduled later this year.

Contact Wesley Juhl at wjuhl@reviewjournal.com and 702-383-0381. Find him on Twitter: @WesJuhl.