Gays Denied Marriage: The Economic Cost

Two male wedding figures on cake board.

What's the cost to gay people of not being allowed to marry? A University of Massachusetts economist believes the lifetime cost averages $500,000 per couple.

Professor Lee Badgett, director of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst's Center for Public Policy and Administration, estimates that the cost of denying the legal status of marriage to a gay couple can be up to half million dollars for the two combined, over the course of their lives.

Her article "The Economic Value of Marriage For Same-Sex Couples," published in the Duke Law Review in 2010, estimates the cost in a variety of categories, including health insurance benefits, federal taxes (including income and estate taxes), Social Security benefits, retirement benefits, and economies of scale.

READ MORE: ABC"s Full Coverage of the Gay Marriage Challenge at the Supreme Court

There is also, she notes, a cost in citizenship, since, were the couple's union afforded legal status, a partner who was not a U.S. citizen would automatically become eligible for conditional permanent resident status.

She argues, too, that the superior economic value of marriage is implied by data showing that same-sex couples value it "much more highly than any existing alternative status," including civil unions, civil partnerships, domestic partnerships or registered partnerships.

Marriage, she concludes, has a dollar value superior to all competing "marriage-like alternatives."

An economic analogy, she writes, would be "the situation in which consumers see added economic value from purchasing a brand-name product over a less prestigious brand or generic version."

In the case before the Supreme Court right now, Edie Windsor sued the government over her having to pay $363,000 in estate taxes when her partner of 50 years passed away. Had the couple been a man and a woman, there would have been no estate tax. The two had married in Toronto, Canada, 10 years earlier.