They’ve tried p*rn. They’ve tried fireworks. Now they’re trying the pink dollar.

OK, so the ACT’s civil union bill has more noble aims than simply luring same-sex couples to spend money in Canberra. But with the Territory preparing to become the first place in Australia for same-sex couples to get married – or at least civil unionised – Canberra could stake its claim as the Las Vegas of the southern hemisphere. After all, it’s only three hours’ car ride away from the same-sex capital of Australia (and a little further from Australia’s real gay and lesbian capital).

“I am one of many non-ACT residents who have been watching the civil union developments in the ACT with some excitement, as this means that my partner and I may not have to travel overseas to solemnise our union,” subscriber Hannah Robert tells Crikey. For now, same sex couples continue to spend their dollars overseas in New Zealand, Canada and Spain.

Interestingly, she says, despite the federal government’s objections, “the helpful staff in the ACT Tourism office, and at various wedding venues and hotels who I have spoken with certainly see no sense in discriminating against us”.

Of course, it’s difficult to tell just how much – or how little – money the civil union would bring to the ACT. But a rough estimate can be formulated. According to a reading of the 2001 Census by Monash University’s Bob Birrell and Virginia Rapson, 0.25% of people in Australia were living in same-sex de facto relationships. With a population of 19.6 million people at the time, that represents 49,000 people. Not a large number, although Shaun Wilson, lecturer in sociology at Macquarie University, believes that the number is significantly higher.

If we were to assume that even 5% of these people would make the move from de facto to spouse in the ACT, spending $4,000 per couple (a very sedate figure considering that the average cost of a wedding in Australia is around $28,000 and that doesn’t account for guests’ accommodation and flight costs) that would bring in $4,900,000.

And it’s foreseeable that overseas tourists would also make a point of stopping off in the ACT to get hitched.

Like the moment when Dorothy lands in Oz, it could even bring colour to Canberra.

Peter Fray

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