What if gay couples could get married in a state without ever setting foot there?

Two University of Michigan professors say that should be an option for same-sex couples. States should offer online marriages to anybody who wants one, they say. According to NPR, the researches view e-marriage as a "game-changer." "There is no geographic monopoly that states have over marriage," says one of the professors.

Currently, four states extend marriage rights to same-sex couples (New Hampshire will become the fifth on January 1, and the District of Columbia is on track to legalize gay marriage shortly after the new year).

One the one hand, it's easy to imagine that the number of gay marriages nationwide would increase. If gay couples in Texas, say, could get married without traveling to Iowa or someplace else where it's legal, it's certainly conceivable that more of them would take advantage of the opportunity.

And for that reason, it's easy to see why gay-marriage foes would be highly critical of e-marriages.

But none of this, of course, would change the fact that most states still wouldn't recognize gay marriages of any kind. For those Texas couples, it wouldn't matter if they traveled to Iowa or got an Iowa marriage certificate on the Internet -- they still wouldn't be considered married in Texas.

In that light, I'm not so sure this would be such a "game-changer." 

There is one area, though, where this could have a greatly negative effect, no matter how you feel about gay marriage: economic development. According to NPR:

In Iowa, for instance, a 2008 UCLA study predicted that same-sex marriage could generate $160 million in new revenue there in just three years.

The state approved same-sex marriage in April; by June, Christopher Diebel had founded MyIowaGayWedding.com. He questions why any Iowa politician would risk undercutting a growing segment of the state's economy.

"Those of us that are involved in that industry are certainly going to want to protect our investments and the business that comes to our state," Diebel said.

"And frankly, we would all believe that our state deserves to have that income brought into it for being at the forefront of this fight and leading the way."

A weaker bottom line may be an even bigger issue for same-sex marriage-oriented companies in the four New England states that depend even more heavily on tourism than Iowa does.