Surprise! NOM is TERRIBLE at Economic Analysis

Rob Tisinai

March 1st, 2013

WARNING: This one’s for the analysis and policy wonks.

The National Organization for Marriage has an impressive history of incompetent economic analysis. For instance, they love to show that states banning same-sex marriage have the best rankings for income growth, or the best conditions for business, as if…as if this proves something, as if there were no difference between correlation and causation, as if there weren’t other state rankings that turn their conclusions completely around.

NOM continually pretends to be rigorous and ends up digging into data with the all the power of a teaspoon. Remember that page put up by NOM’s Rhode Island branch which lied about the Regnerus study? It also tries to minimize the potential impact of same-sex marriage to the state’s economy. And it…stumbles:

There were 1,050,646 people in Rhode Island in 2011, which means that 1.26% of the population, got married.

If same-sex ‘marriage’ was legal in 2011, and the same percentage of the estimated 23,106 gays and lesbians (bisexuals removed from stat according to national averages) in Rhode Island got married, the potential contribution to the overall Rhode Island economy would have been 0.0077%.  The same “economic boost” would have been generated if everybody in Rhode Island had bought a hotdog at 7-11 or if every employed person had worked for just 5 more minutes during that year.

First, look those numbers. Many small problems with that: Why did they link to some data sources and not to others? Why did they remove all bisexuals? Why are they calculating marriage rates based on the entire population rather than just on adults?

But put all that aside and consider the big problem: For NOM to apply that 1.26% marriage rate to gays and lesbians, they have to pretend there’s no backlog of stable, same-sex couples who have been waiting for years to marry. Which is hilarious. Which means we have every reason to expect the marriage rate for same-sex couples to exceed 1.26% in the first year or two.

“Oh, but that’s just a one-time bump,” our opponents might respond. “Its effect will vanish quickly.”

Not exactly. What happens when same-sex couples spend all that wedding money? Income goes up for other Rhode Islanders, too: waiters, bartenders, wedding hall owners, caterers, grocers, bed and breakfast owners, and so on. These people spend their new income, boosting the economy further. The recipients of that income will spend it in turn, and so on — continuing, amplifying, multiplying the initial bump. In fact, economists call this the multiplier effect. The effect is stronger when the economy has a lot of unemployed labor and resources. And guess what? Rhode Island has the highest unemployment rate in the country.

So in all likelihood, NOM is vastly understating the immediate impact of marriage equality on Rhode Island’s struggling economy. I wouldn’t accuse them of dishonesty, though. NOM simply isn’t good at rigorous analysis — of any sort. For instance, NOM continues:

The economic benefit of encouraging families and marriage as it is currently defined would be $206,000,000 or 0.4% of the total Rhode Island domestic product that’s about 54 times the effect same-sex ‘marriage’ stands to have, or $31 million more than the entire Rhode island wedding industry.

By this time, I’m sure you know the drill:

1.  Follow NOM’s link.

2.  Read the data.

3.  Wonder whether NOM is being dishonest or just incompetent.

That $206 million figure is the estimated annual cost of “family fragmentation” in Rhode Island. In order to achieve those full savings, you’d have to institute programs that brought unmarried childbearing, divorce, and widowhood(!) down to — wait for it — zero.

Yes, zero. That’s a much bigger project than merely “encouraging families and marriage as it is currently defined.” Which brings us to NOM’s next failing: It’s useless to analyze a policy’s benefits if you don’t analyze the costs as well. I don’t know know how much it would cost Rhode Island to recognize same-sex marriage, but at the very least  they’d gain some revenue in licensing fees. And I don’t know how much it would cost to bring unmarried childbearing, divorce, and widowhood down to zero because it remains difficult to quantify the dollar cost of magic.

Is it even worth pointing out other mistakes, like the false dilemma of pretending you can’t both legalize same-sex marriage and battle family fragmentation? Or NOM’s fierce blindness to the idea that marriage equality could reduce fragmentation of same-sex families?

It’s just sad. Granted, a lot of this might not be obvious to the average person — someone with no training, or who lacks the time to focus on the issue, or who isn’t being paid to write this crap — but NOM takes money from its donors and channels that cash into a very good living for its staff. And I may be alone in this, but the more we win, the worse I feel for the poor folk that NOM casually and routinely dupes.


March 1st, 2013

I don’t wonder if NOM is incompetent or dishonest. Given their track record, the clear winner is deliberately dishonest. They couldn’t tell the truth if gawd almighty kicked that little creep Brian Brown to eternity and back.

Regan DuCasse

March 1st, 2013

I think it’s both. Liars, AND incompetent, cowardly and just plain incapable of any complexity or legal depth to their argument.
When you read the differences between the anti gay comment threads their own sites and FB pages generate, on two kinds of comments are made.
They are ignorant of gay people in general, or there are sermons.
There is profound stupidity when it comes to any accuracy, even about the limits of gov’t to their demands and cause.
Pro equality comments are typically well informed, at least exceptional in intelligence and determined honesty.
And lots of patience.
These are people who are not at all wanting to hear ANY dissent.
Nor are they comfortable in places they are not in total control.
When you tell on them, they shut you down.
After a while, they do sound stupid, paranoid, ill informed and without any knowledge of what civil law and playing well with others is about.
And they apparently are offended that there are people smarter than they are who don’t believe them, or won’t do what they say.
The try to blame gay people for it.
But that’s not working so well either.
The general public WILL grow tired of them, and their sky is falling rhetoric, and either ignore them or tell them to go away and won’t THAT be sweet?


March 1st, 2013

“Wonder whether NOM is being dishonest or just incompetent.”

I’ll take “dishonest” for $1,000, Alex.

Rob Tisinai

March 1st, 2013

Truthfully, I think you guys are overestimating NOM’s basic analytical competence. I suspect they often (not always) have no idea that what they’re saying makes no sense. I believe one aspect of homophobia is that it makes people literally irrational.

Donny D.

March 1st, 2013

They may also think they’re smarter than they really are.

Rob Tisinai

March 1st, 2013

That’s for certain, Donny!


March 1st, 2013

NOM always plays it fast and loose with numbers anyhow. On their NOM RI page I note they now say that only 78% of RI residents want to put our rights to a ballot vote.

First of all it’s relatively difficult to do that in RI. You need the house to vote on it and with the latest marriage equality vote, that’s not going to happen.

And the 78% – I said it’s down? They were running an add a couple years back that said 80% wanted to vote it on a ballot. I did a little what-if with the voter database. First of all a large proportion of voters lives in the urban areas – second of all only a small portion of those registered to vote actually do so. In the end I arrived at a potential 29%, so NOM is inflating the numbers yet again.

Mark F.

March 1st, 2013


I’d be in favor of putting our rights to a vote in RI because I’m fairly certain we would win! How would NOM account for that?

Rob Tisinai

March 1st, 2013

No one seems to believe me, but I’ll offer this again: Once NOM can no longer count on putting marriage to a vote, they’ll start their own battle in the courts, claiming that marriage equality violates their religious liberty, and that any person (employers, etc.) should have the right to ignore such marriages if they violate their “sincerely held religious beliefs.”

They’ll lose, mind you, but they’ll try.


March 2nd, 2013

NOM is a classic example of people who spend too much time talking exclusively to each other, telling themselves what they want to hear, and congratulating themselves for being so astute. It doesn’t really matter what anybody else thinks. As the world moves on without them they will continue what they have always done. Their irrelevance won’t faze them a bit because, for the foreseeable future, there will be new people to give them money and tell them how right and brilliant they are. Their failures will only draw to them more of the same until it is just one guy left writing Post-It notes to himself.

Priya Lynn

March 2nd, 2013

I believe you Rob.

Bobby In Seattle

March 4th, 2013

I’d have to vote that it’s deliberate dishonesty. At least on the part of those running the NOM show.

The average commenter on NOM’s site often falls into the ‘Dunning-Kruger Effect’ camp, where their incompetence blinds them to their true level of competence, therefore they over rate their own self importance and competence level (think Sarah Palin as an example). This is classical behavior of the fringe religious right, where even if they are only a minority of thought, they believe their answer to living is the only way, regardless of proof from science or the majority. Frankly, I don’t think the average NOM commenter has the mental ability to understand the analysis involved in their conclusion for such studies. They simply eat up what they want to hear, and NOM does a good job of providing.

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