Montana’s 1,348 same-sex couples resemble married, different-sex couples in many ways, and allowing them equal access to state law protections and obligations would likely benefit the state economy, according to a friend-of-the-court brief filed today in Donaldson vs. Montana, a lawsuit in the Montana Supreme Court addressing the rights of same-sex couples.
The brief was authored by Jennifer C. Pizer, Legal Director and Arnold D. Kassoy Senior Scholar of Law at UCLA School of Law’s Williams Institute, and was filed on behalf of demographer Dr. Gary Gates, the Williams Distinguished Scholar, and economics professor Lee Badgett, the Williams Institute’s Research Director. Pizer was joined on the brief by Holly J. Franz of Franz & Driscoll, PLLP, of Helena, Montana.
Six same-sex couples filed the lawsuit in state court based on the Montana Constitution, saying the state cannot offer benefits and protections only to different-sex couples through marriage, with no way for same-sex partners and their dependents to receive equivalent protections.
“Courts and lawmakers sometimes worry that offering equal legal rights and responsibilities to same-sex couples may be expensive and difficult,” said Pizer. “This brief presents the findings of dozens of research studies showing the opposite is true: states save money when they offer legal recognition to same-sex couples. This economic information can give the court a fuller context for evaluating the arguments made by both sides.”
Dr. Gary Gates explained, “Like married couples, Montana’s same-sex couples live throughout the state, are financially interdependent, participate in the economy, and are raising children.” According to his expert calculations, approximately 22% of same-sex couples in Montana (roughly 300 couples) are raising 600 children, compared to 36% of married, different-sex couples. Twenty-one percent of same-sex couples in Montana have only one wage earner (compared to 29% of married, different-sex couples), and 86% of individuals in same-sex couples are employed.
Despite high levels of employment, however, same-sex couples still lack access to financial resources when compared to their married, different-sex counterparts. The mean annual income of same-sex couples in Montana is $62,749, compared with $72,787 for married, different-sex couples. Also, 57% of same-sex couples are homeowners, compared to 81% of married, different-sex couples.
Should the state provide legal recognition of same-sex couples, many prior studies suggest it would have modest beneficial impacts on Montana’s economy. Professor Badgett explains: “The positive budgetary impact is driven significantly by savings in public benefits programs, as well as by new filing fees and other minor factors. Most potential state budgetary consequences actually are insignificant or nonissues.” Montana already offers employee benefits to same-sex partners, and the state has no sales, estate or inheritance taxes.
The amicus brief also draws from recent Williams Institute research indicating that same-sex couples do formalize their relationships when state law allows them to. Nationally, 47% of all same-sex couples whose home state allows them to enter a family relationship status have done so. Also, the data show that same-sex couples and different-sex couples have similar dissolution rates: an average of 1.1% of same-sex couples end their legal relationships each year, compared with a 2% average divorce rate for different-sex couples.
The brief presents findings from Williams Institute research studies including:
• M.V. Lee Badgett & Jody L. Herman, Patterns of Relationship Recognition by Same-Sex Couples in the United States (Nov. 2011), http://williamsinstitute.law.
• Brad Sears & Christy Mallory, Economic Motives for Adopting LGBT-Related Workplace Policies (October 2011),http://williamsinstitute.law.
• Gary Gates & Abigail M. Cooke, United States Census Snapshot: 2010 (2011), http://williamsinstitute.law.
• Dozens of “economic impact” studies undertaken from 2003 to the present: http://williamsinstitute.law.
The amicus brief is available at: http://williamsinstitute.law.
The Williams Institute on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Law and Public Policy advances law and public policy through rigorous, independent research and scholarship, and disseminates its work through a variety of education programs and media to judges, legislators, lawyers, other policy makers, and the public. For more information, please visit http://williamsinstitute.law.