As a rule, I hate Kevin Costner. His movies tend to be overblown (Waterworld), narcissistic (The Postman), or just inane (Swing Vote). However, after marrying my boyfriend of four years in Iowa this past summer, Costner’s sappy classic Field of Dreams has taken on great sentimental value for me, embarrassing as it is to admit. Easily recognized for that famous line, “If you build it, they will come,” Field of Dreams follows Costner as an Iowa farmer who hears voices telling him to create a baseball stadium so that long-dead players can return for one last triumphant turn at bat.
Though not regarded as an avant-garde film, the movie’s tag line portrays Iowa as a place ahead of its time, a place where even the wackiest dreams can come true. While I didn’t see any ghosts of baseball’s past on my recent visit to the Hawkeye State, I was legally allowed to marry Josh, something gays and lesbians in Ohio unfortunately still merely dream of.
Here in Ohio, Josh and I are both spirited Cleveland residents. We praise its charms and quirks to our friends and family like proud ambassadors, we defend its honor in the face of mockery, we eat voraciously in its local restaurants and we bravely swim with our dog on the oft-ridiculed shores of Lake Erie. When we decided we wanted to get married, however, we had to leave our fair city and travel more than 500 miles to Iowa, the only Midwestern state honoring marriage equality.
It turns out we were far from the only folks capitalizing on Iowa’s choice to support this initiative. The “if you build it, they will come” philosophy appears to attract both departed right fielders and committed gay couples, who have been pouring into Iowa since April 2009, when the Iowa Supreme Court ruled that denying marriage equality was unconstitutional. In 2009 alone, more than 2,000 same sex couples wed in Iowa, 1,000 of which traveled from out of state, creating millions of dollars of extra revenue for local businesses across Iowa.
Though we were on a tight budget, Josh and I came back from Iowa having spent more than $1,000 on transportation, hotels, food and requisite Iowa apparel; our closet now looks like we robbed the University of Iowa bookstore. I couldn’t help but imagine the thousands of other out-of-state couples spending their thousands of dollars in Iowa rather than their home states, and how significantly these purchases must impact the creation of local service sector jobs as well as the entire state economy. We would have rather had our wedding here, Cleveland stalwarts that we are, but Ohio is far behind Iowa in supporting LGBT equality. Not only is this inequality an injustice to LGBT Ohioans who hold second-class citizenship in our state, but banning gay marriage is also a highly myopic economic decision forcing willing couples to spend their money out of state.
Beyond the money gay and lesbian couples spend on their weddings in states that allow it, many economists agree that a robust gay and lesbian community fosters a strong local economy. Richard Florida, a frequently cited theorist on urban issues, writes, “While politicians and voters continue to debate whether LGBT people have the right to marry, to adopt children, or serve openly in the U.S. military, a growing body of research suggests that considerable benefits accrue to those cities and metro areas that have sizeable, visible concentrations of gay men and lesbians. Income levels are higher, as are many other measures of life satisfaction.”
If Florida is correct in his understanding that gays and lesbians can have a significant economic impact on neighborhoods and communities, Ohio’s anti-gay legislation does nothing to battle our state’s serious budget shortfalls, urban decay or unemployment crisis. Our government desperately needs a strong tax base to foster growth and development across the state, yet state law does nothing to encourage us to stay. Every gay and lesbian couple who chooses to settle in Iowa or Massachusetts or any other state recognizing marriage equality is one less couple paying taxes in Ohio.
John Kasich, a Republican candidate for governor who will challenge incumbent Ted Strickland this fall, recently spoke out about Ohio’s losing battle against “brain drain,” buzz words people use to describe the phenomenon of educated Ohioans leaving the state for greener pastures: “The brain drain is we send our children to the finest institutions of learning - then they leave Ohio saying they're going where the action is.” If Kasich really wanted to keep the best and brightest in his state, he would not support discriminatory laws against gay and lesbian Ohioans, a demographic that Richard Florida and other economists connect directly to artistic, intellectual, economic and technological growth in regions cultivating sizable gay communities. At a time when our state is cutting jobs, unemployment benefits and other needed services, how can we support politicians who are simultaneously denying a group of citizens basic rights while not doing everything they can to create jobs and encourage economic growth?
Despite my continued prejudice against Kevin Costner and his films, there’s a lesson to be learned in his unfaltering commitment to complete a project, whether it’s getting trapped in a violent hurricane during the filming of Waterworld or managing to produce, direct, and star in most of the movies he makes. Though most of his films happen to be terrible, Ohio needs to adopt this Costner-esque stance of doing whatever it takes to secure equality for its gay and lesbian residents. We simply cannot afford to do otherwise.