SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – The focus of the trial challenging California’s Proposition 8 shifted Thursday to economics after the chief economist for the City and County of San Francisco said he believed prohibition of marriage for same-sex couples is “a form of discrimination,” and its legalization would increase revenues for the city and positively impact its economy.
Edmund Egan, who also teaches graduate-level courses at The University of California, Berkeley, told city attorney Christine Van Aken that legalized same-sex marriage would lead to “greater wealth accumulation, as married individuals tend to accumulate more wealth than single individuals. So we’ll see higher spending on consumer goods and increase in the value of real estate.”
Egan said that with this increased spending comes higher sales and property tax revenues. Same-sex marriage would also put less of a strain on the city and county’s public health budget, as gay and lesbian couples become eligible for spousal health benefits through their employers. Egan said he did not think these employer benefits apply to domestic partners, however.
“If more individuals are covered by their spouse’s employer health care plan, it would reduce the number of uninsured in San Francisco and reduce the city’s burden to cover them,” Egan said. “I cannot quantify how much money will be saved right now, but we do know that the city and county spends $175-177 million a year providing health care for the uninsured.”
The cost of public behavioral health services, such as psychiatric care, would also see a reduction in costs, Egan said. He noted that he spoke with a person who worked in the city’s Public Health department who said that gays and lesbians comprised the majority of people partaking in public behavior health services, “particularly because of discrimination. If same-sex marriage were legal, there would be fewer individuals using public behavioral health services,” Egan said.
Same-sex weddings would also contribute to city revenues, Egan said. He estimated that the city could rake in $21 million per year in resident weddings and $35 million for non-resident weddings from marriage license fees, consumer spending and hotel taxes.
Sighs permeated the courtroom as expert testimony continued through Prop. 8 attorney Peter Patterson’s cross-examination. Patterson criticized that Egan based his findings on figures from June 17, 2008 through Nov. 4, 2008, when same-sex marriage was temporarily legal in California. He suggested the amount of revenue the city collected during June 2008 had been “inflated” because of the “pent-up demand” for marriages that up until that point had been prohibited.
Patterson also emphasized that city revenue from same-sex weddings would at the very least taper off if Prop. 8 were overturned, and even end up costing the city more money because of the need to hire more staff to administer marriage licenses. Egan maintained that the fees for the marriage licenses would cover for those costs.
After nearly two hours of cross-examination, U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker made a forward-thrusting motion with his fist, urging Patterson to press on. “I think you should move on to the point you’re trying to make,” Walker said. “Given that this is an adverse witness, maybe you should question him the old-fashioned way instead of trying to take his deposition.”
At the end of the mid-morning break, lead attorney for Prop. 8 proponents David Thompson questioned Walker’s decision to allow the proceeding to be recorded, insisting that he did not want any broadcasting of the trial. Walker clarified that the trial would not be broadcast, only recorded for use in chambers. “I think it would be quite helpful for me to have that recording when I’m preparing findings of fact.”
By Thursday, media interest in the trial had subsided, which made more space for curious onlookers. One spectator fumbled with her Blackberry as she attempted to update her Facebook status to announce that she was actually in Walker’s courtroom.
“Now that I’m retired I can do whatever I want, so I decided to come down here,” one man said as he took a seat in the front row to watch the proceedings.
He said he found it interesting that respective conservative and liberal attorneys Theodore Olson and David Boies had partnered up for the trial. “I’m rooting for the plaintiffs,” he said.