Marriage is being saved by gays—in the District

Posted by Jonathan Capehart on

"During my speech at the Sexual Minority Youth Assistance League (SMYAL) brunch on Sunday, I blew rhetorical kisses at City Councilmember David A. Catania (I-At Large) for his strategic leadership in bringing marriage equality to the District. Afterwards, Catania thanked me for the shout-out. But then he told me something startling. More same-sex couples are getting married here than heterosexual couples. That's good news for an institution straight folks don't seem too keen on joining in lately.

"'That's a story,' I gasped. We journalists are prone to saying that when warranted. It's not quite 'Stop the presses!' but it's pretty close. Anyway, I asked Catania for the data, since he is collecting it from the Superior Court for a report he'll release on March 3, 2011, the one-year anniversary of the law going into effect. Two things to keep in mind when looking at the bullet points he sent me. First, we're only six months into this. Second, these are back-of-the-envelope comparisons with last year. Catania points out:

  • In 2009, there were 3,096 licenses issued for the entire year (averages out to 258/month)
  • From January 1, 2010 to March 2, 2010 (the last day before marriage equality went into effect): 376 licenses issued.
  • From March 3, 2010 to Sept. 29, 2010: 4,789 licenses issued.*
  • Using the 2009 average of 258 licenses a month, then by this point in 2009 there were approx. 2,322 marriage licenses issued.
  • As of Sept. 29, 2010, there have been 5,125 licenses issued during 2010, an increase of over 2,800 licenses compared with this time last year

"That's a difference of 150 percent. Or put another way, for every straight couple getting married in the District, there are potentially two gay couples tying the knot, jumping the broom, pick your metaphor. 'While we can’t technically attribute all of the 2,800 additional licenses to marriage equality,' Catania cautions, 'it is a fair assumption that the vast majority were issued to same-sex couples.' He also noted that the city doesn't 'keep track of the gender of applicants, so there is no way to tally which licenses were issued to same-sex versus opposite-sex couples.' Another thing that isn't known is exactly how many of the people saying 'I do' in the District actually live here. 'Couples applying for marriage licenses come from around the country, but mostly the DC-Maryland-Virginia area,' Leah Gurowitz of the Superior Court told me. 'We do not keep a list of the number of couples from each jurisdiction.'

"Each couple hands over $45 for the marriage application and license. So, the city has pulled in more than $126,000 in extra cash. While the overall economic impact isn't known just yet, the Williams Institute at the UCLA Law School estimated in an April 2009 report that the freedom to marry 'will boost the District of Columbia's economy by over $52.2 million over three years, which would generate increases in local government tax and fee revenues by $5.4 million and create approximately 700 new jobs.'

"A couple of days ago, there was a story about how in 2009, for the first time in a century, the number of young adults who have never married outnumbered those who were married. The sour economy and more people deciding to shack up than wed are among the reasons for the decline. But given the stats we have so far, those concerns don't seem to be an issue here in the District.

"The reason for the asterisk (*) after the third bullet point kind of illustrates the point. When Catania sent his e-mail yesterday afternoon, the number of licenses issued at that point was 4,779. I sent Gurowitz an e-mail later to confirm another data point. In her response she wanted to make sure I had the latest number: 4,789.

"Wondering if Catania made a typo, I wrote back to Gurowitz, 'Just double checking, you wrote 4789 applications. Catania wrote 4779. I'm assuming you're the correct one.' She replied, 'Apparently ten couples came in today! (but I appreciate your assumption, nonetheless).'"

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