Opinion article published in the Newcastle Herald co-authored by Professor Scott Holmes, Pro Vice-Chancellor (Research) and Dean of Graduate Studies, and Sam Bright, a research officer, from the University of Newcastle.

All citizens should have the same rights and obligations in society. As such, gay couples should have the same right to marry under the Marriage Act. Given that the moral and social-rights arguments don’t seem to be getting us to this point, let’s try an economic argument.

Last year there were 121,752 marriages registered in Australia. According to business and economic analysts IBISWorld, the wedding industry generated $4.3 billion in revenue in 2011, an amount that they expect to rise to $4.7 billion in 2016. In terms of contribution to GDP, this equates to around $1.8 billion this year.

The primary economic boost would come through the direct injection of money spent on a wedding.

The research by IBISWorld also found the average cost of a wedding in Australia in 2012 was $36,700, and the wedding industry is one of the few that is bucking the trend of economic slowdown.

Data from the 2011 census showed there are around 33,700 same-sex couples living in Australia (and this number is thought to be a conservative finding because it is expected there is some unwillingness by people to identify themselves as same-sex couples in the census). The actual figure could be much higher. It also fails to take into account those in same-sex relationships that do not live together, or those currently not in a relationship but may wish to marry when they meet the right partner. Overall the 33,700 represents about 0.7 per cent of the total number of couples in Australia, a percentage that is consistent with other countries such as New Zealand and Canada.

Using the ABS figures as a starting point, if half of the same-sex couples who identified themselves in the 2011 census got married next year, at an average cost of $36,700, it would be worth around $600 million to the Australian economy, or $1.2 billion if all couples tied the knot. That $600 million would provide 14 per cent growth to an industry currently expected to grow at around 1.4 per cent.

If other factors remain consistent this would increase the wedding industry’s contribution to GDP to over $2 billion. In this respect, the value of legalising gay marriage to the economy is over $200 million.

On top of this, IBISWorld notes that older couples tend to spend more on their wedding because they have had more time to save money, and are more likely to know what they want when it comes to their dream day. Considering gay marriage would only have just become legal, it’s likely the average age of same-sex couples marrying would be higher than the average age of heterosexual couples (for heterosexuals this is 29.6 years for men and 27.9 years for women, while the majority of same-sex partners fall into the age bracket 35-44 years). Therefore the potential economic benefits are even greater than those envisaged above.

The economic benefits of legalising same-sex marriage may not just be limited to the marriage of Australians. Currently there are 11 countries in the world that allow same-sex marriages, leaving a huge proportion in which same-sex marriage is illegal. Through legalising same-sex marriage, the commonwealth government opens the door for a potentially huge addition to the tourism industry.

In the United States alone there are an estimated 9 million people that identify as gay, lesbian or bisexual. In the US, same-sex marriage is legal in only nine states, while some states recognise same-sex marriages performed in other jurisdictions but not their own.

Hypothetically, there are potentially 4.5 million same-sex couples that could form from these 9 million people. If Australia could attract even 3 per cent of these couples to wed down under, the 135,000 extra weddings would more than double the 121,752 of 2011.

If the average cost is the same for these weddings, this means an additional $4.9 billion in revenue, and around $2 billion extra in terms of the wedding industry’s contribution to GDP. And that is just the potential benefit from same-sex couples from the US.

Other industries, especially tourism, could also benefit from the legalisation of same-sex marriage.

Using the US numbers above, 135,000 additional weddings each with 20 attendees would be an extra 2.7 million visitors to Australia. This would increase the 6 million short-term visitors who entered Australia in 2011-12 by 45 per cent.

Considering these facts and figures, if people (including our Prime Minister) can’t justify equal rights for all citizens through legalisation of same-sex marriage on social and moral grounds, they should at least be able to do so on economic grounds.