SAVANNAH, Ga. Republicans can reach a broader base by recasting gay marriage as an issue that could dent pocketbooks as small businesses spend more on health care and other benefits, GOP Chairman Michael Steele said Saturday.
Steele said that was just an example of how the party can retool its message to appeal to young voters and minorities without sacrificing core conservative principles. Steele said he used the 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.
"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 told Republicans at the state convention in traditionally conservative Georgia. "So how do I pay for that? Who pays for that? You just cost me money."
As Steele talked about ways the party could position itself, he also poked fun at his previous pledge to give the GOP a "hip-hop makeover."
"You don't have to wear your pants cut down here or the big bling," he said. "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."
Vermont and Iowa have legalized gay marriage in recent weeks, and a Quinnipiac University poll released earlier this month found that 57 percent of people questioned support civil unions that provide marriage-like rights. Although 55 percent said they opposed gay marriage, the poll indicated a shift toward more acceptance.
The chief of the Republican National Committee has been criticized by some social conservatives in recent weeks after GQ magazine quoted him as saying he opposed gay marriage but wasn't going to "beat people upside the head about it."
Steele, a Catholic and former Maryland lieutenant governor, was elected chairman of the committee earlier this year.
Steele received a rousing reception from the Georgia Republicans meeting in Savannah. Convention delegates gave him standing ovations twice before speeches at breakfast and later on the convention floor.