When we look back for the definitive moment when conservatives lost the gay marriage debate, this may well be it.
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."
Student: "Good point. Why should we be giving benefits to spouses at all?"
Steele: "Well, um, supporting families benefits society, which benefits businesses, and it helps businesses attract the best employees."
Student: "Unless they're gay."
Steele: "But if no businesses give benefits to gay people, they'll have nowhere else to go."
Student: "So your message is that marriage equality IS a matter of fair and equitable treatment, but we're opposed to that?"
Steele: "Right. Because it costs you money."
Student: "But technically it's not gay marriage that costs me money, it's any marriages. Can we ban other people from getting married? I'd save a fortune if Republicans couldn't get hitched."
Steele: "Yes, by my own logic all marriage should be banned to save money for small businesses, but it's too hard to outlaw marriages that are already legal. Let's just focus on preventing any new ones."
Student: "OK, so married employees cost me money, straight people can continue to get married and gays can't. I'm convinced. From now on, I'm only hiring the gays."
Steele: "Um, did I mention that it's an abomination in the eyes of the Lord?"
Student: "No, but I thought you might get around to that eventually."