News (USA)

Day 4 testimony in Prop 8 trial turns to economic, health benefits of marriage

The trial of Perry v. Schwarzenegger entered its fourth day in federal court Thursday, a high stakes landmark case challenging California’s Proposition 8, the voter-approved ban on gay marriage, that many see as a precursor to a showdow before the U.S. Supreme Court.

On the witness stand Thursday, Edmund Egan, chief economist for the City and County of San Francisco, testified that legalizing gay marriage would increase revenues for the city and positively impact its economy, and would reduce health and welfare costs because married people are healthier and wealthier than singles.

Egan’s testimony was the first attempt by the plaintiffs — two same-sex couples and the city of San Francisco — to assess the economic effects of the November 2008 ballot measure.

“Married individuals are healthier, on average, and behave in healthier ways than single individuals,” testified Egan, who heads the Office of Economic Analysis in the city controller’s office, and also teaches graduate-level courses at the University of California, Berkeley,

Egan said that translates into lower worker absenteeism, greater productivity, higher wages and more payroll taxes.

Married people are also less likely to need health care and are more likely than single people or domestic partners to be covered by insurance, in which case the city doesn’t have to subsidize their care, he added.


“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 testified.

“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.”

Same-sex weddings would also contribute to city revenues, Egan said, estimating San Francisco could benefit by $21 million annually in resident weddings and $35 million for non-resident weddings from marriage license fees, consumer spending and hotel taxes.

The estimate was based largely on about 4,100 marriages that took place in San Francisco in 2008, before Proposition 8 went into effect.

Under cross-examination, Proposition 8 defense attorney Peter Patterson questioned Egan’s assumptions, saying the measure’s impact was greatly overstated becuase the economist hasn’t weighed the financial benefits of domestic partnerships.

In the afternoon session, Columbia University professor Ilan H. Meyer, an expert in mental health issues among gays, lesbians and bisexuals, testified that gays and lesbians were more likely to suffer from mental disorders than heterosexuals because of discrimination.


Proposition 8 sent “a message that gay relationships are not respected, that they are of secondary value if they are of any value at all,” Meyer said.

He also said the 2008 measure made the public statement that it was OK “to designate gay people as a different class of people in terms of their intimate relationships.”

Under the cross-examination, Prop 8 lawyer Howard Nielson prompted Meyer to acknowledge he contributed to the campaign against Prop 8 in 2008, hoping to make a quick point that plaintiff’s expert witnesses are strong supporters of gay rights.

Also Thursday, following the mid-morning break, presiding Judge Vaughn R. Walker, officially put an end to to any prospects of the trial being broadcast on the internet, informing the courtroom he is withdrawing the plan from the pilot program established in December. On Wednesday, the U.S. Supreme Court 5-4 against broadcasting the trial.

The trial resumes Friday with the testimony of controversial Prop 8 proponent William Tam and Helen Zia, a San Francisco lesbian who married her partner in 2008 before Proposition 8 was adopted by the voters.

Plaintiff’s attorney David Boies told Judge Walker that the Prop 8 challengers expect to complete their case by the end of day next Wednesday.

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