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Same-sex couples prefer marriage to domestic partnerships, economist testifies

January 19, 2010 |  4:36 pm

An economist told a federal court today that 18,000 same-sex couples were married in California in 2008, but only 2,077 couples formed a domestic partnership while gay marriage was legal.

"It shows that same sex couples prefer marriage by a wide margin over domestic partnerships," said M.V. Lee Badgett, an economics professor at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

Opponents of Proposition 8 called Badgett to the stand during the trial over the federal constitutionality of the 2008 ballot initiative, which reinstated a ban on same-sex marriage.

Badgett also testified that only 5% of same-sex couples registered as domestic partners in the first year that California offered such arrangements, but in less than six months of legalized same-sex marriage in 2008 about 21% of same sex couples were married.

Badgett estimated that California could earn an additional $40 million in wedding-related tax revenue over three years if the  state permitted gays and lesbians to marry.

During a cross-examination that last substantially longer than the testimony, Charles Cooper, an attorney defending Proposition 8, pointed out that the state said in 2008 election materials that Proposition 8 would have no financial impact.

Cooper also tried to show that predictions by Badgett in other studies were inflated. Badgett replied that some of those estimates were made before circumstances changed.

Cooper also read from Badgett's work about the difficulties of categorizing people by sexual orientation. In his questions, Cooper observed that some who engage in same-gender sex identify themselves as heterosexual or bisexual while others who have not had same-sex intimate relationships call themselves gay.

Badgett said there also were difficulties in categorizing people by race and religion.

Both sides clashed over whether the legalization of gay marriage in the Netherlands in 2001 affected overall marriage rates there. Cooper noted that marriage rates have declined significantly in recent years, but Badgett said the decline began well before same-sex marriage became legal.

--Maura Dolan at the San Francisco federal courthouse

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