Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele recast the gay marriage debate as a fiscal issue Saturday, saying allowing same-sex couples to marry places a financial burden on business.
In a breakfast speech to delegates of the Georgia Republican convention, Steele put himself in the shoes of a small business owner having to pay for health care and life insurance for a same-sex couple.
"Now all of a sudden I've got someone who wasn't a spouse before, that I had no responsibility for, who is now getting claimed as a spouse that I now have financial responsibility for," Steele said. "So how do I pay for that? Who pays for that? You just cost me money."
Steele said he used that argument weeks ago while chatting on a flight with a college student who described herself as fiscally conservative but socially liberal on issues like gay marriage.
That example, Steele said, should serve as an example to Republicans of how to retool their message to appeal to a broader base - such as young people and minorities - without sacrificing the party's core conservative beliefs.
"You don't have to wear your pants cut down here or the big bling," Steele said, poking fun at his previous pledge to give the GOP a "hip-hop makeover." "It's a metaphor for taking this party to places and to people that we've either forgotten about, ignored or feel don't want to engage with us."
Some social conservatives recently criticized Steele after GQ magazine quoted the GOP chairman saying he opposed gay marriage but wasn't going to "beat people upside the head about it."
Still, Steele received a rousing reception from Republicans in traditionally conservative Georgia. Delegates to the convention in Savannah rose from their breakfasts and gave him a standing ovation as he took the stage before speaking Saturday.
"I think he tries to call it like it is," said delegate David Dillinger, a 79-year-old retired Army officer from rural Thomson. "He says we got our butt kicked and need to get some glue to stick ourselves together. We need to change."