(WPRI) - Despite Rhode Island's new civil union law, we've learned a growing number of gay couples are crossing the border or moving out of state to get married. And some studies show Rhode Island could be missing out on millions in wedding costs and tax dollars.
We've learned only 14 couples have entered into civil unions since the law passed this summer. But census data shows nearly 600 gay couples from Rhode Island spent their wedding day and their cash in other states.
For newlyweds Sarah and Theresa Masnik, it was love at first sight. The URI and Roger Williams grads met in Providence, where they lived together for four years. "That's where we met," says Theresa. "That's where we fell in love, where we had our first date on Federal Hill."
But when it came to planning their wedding and their new life together, the couple faced a tough choice. "We looked at each other," says Sarah, "and said why do we want to spend almost $50,000 and give it to a state that doesn't acknowledge us?"
The pair dreamed of a Rhode Island beach wedding. Instead, they decided to tie the knot in Massachusetts and then move there. We've learned they're not the only ones. "We spent a lot of money out of state," says Theresa, "just so we could get married."
According to the Massachusetts Department of Health, about 250 same-sex couples from Rhode Island were married in the bay state between 2004 and 2008. Marriage Equality Rhode Island estimates those weddings pumped nearly $8 million into the Massachusetts economy.
"Rhode Island is one of the premiere wedding destinations in the country," says Ray Sullivan from Marriage Equality Rhode Island. "So for this state to exclude same-sex couples from being able to take part in those celebrations here, that is to their own economic detriment."
A UCLA study predicts Rhode Island would make $1.2 million over three years if the state legalized same-sex marriage. But opponents, like Chris Plante from the National Organization for Marriage, argue the law would actually hurt the state's economy long-term. "Gay marriage, redefining marriage, is not the solution to our economic problems," says Plante. "The solution to our economic problem is fixing our families."
Supporters of marriage equality say the state's civil union law is pushing more and more same-sex couples to leave Rhode Island. Although the Masniks still consider Providence home, they say the difficult move was to protect their family. "If it was legal in Rhode Island," says Theresa, "we would've stayed there. It actually would've made it easier for us."
Even with couples like Sarah and Theresa leaving the state, opponents tell us same sex marriage would do little fix Rhode Island's financial woes. "The economic argument looks good in our strapped times," says Chris Plante from the National Organization for Marriage. "But when you take the long view of it, it's not the answer."
We're told lawmakers are expected to take up gay marriage once again this upcoming session. Same-sex marriage bills have died in the general assembly every year since 1997.
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