Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee (I) said legalizing same-sex marriage should make his home state a “hip, happening” place.

Chafee is expected to sign the bill into law this evening. The former Republican senator said on MSNBC it’s a natural step for his political career.

“Well, I always was what they used to call ‘Rockefeller Republicans’ that was very liberal on the social issues and more conservative on the financial issues — very wary of deficits and the like, but very liberal on the social issues. That was a whole genre across the country, with Mark Hatfield in Oregon, or Nancy Kassebaum in Kansas, Chuck Percy. And then in the Northeast, of course, many, many Rockefeller Republicans,” he said. “That changed over the years, but I’ve stayed the same. Now I’m an independent, but the values are the same.”

The governor said the GOP “getting away from those core values of fiscal conservatism” was why he left the party.

“The Bush and Cheney administration brought back the deficits and then focused on the social issues. It was a reversal of the old style Republican — Eisenhower, Rockefeller type of Republican — Republicanism,” he said.

Chafee said the gay marriage argument can be won with conservatives by using “studies that show a correlation between tolerance and economic prosperity, and I believe those studies.”

“Whether it’s Cambridge or Austin, Texas, or Palo Alto. Communities that have a lot of tolerance are going to prosper economically. It’s young, talented people that like that kind of atmosphere. And there is a correlation. I believe that,” he said.

“And so, I want Rhode Island to be one of those hip happening places, and tolerance is a big part of it.”

The Rhode Island House just passed the bill adding the state to nine other states and the District of Columbia where same-sex marriage is legal.

“I want to sign it as soon as they finish that vote,” Chafee said.