Can Michael Steele Really Reframe Gay Marriage as an Economic Issue?

With the California Supreme Court set to issue its ruling on Tuesday on the validity of Proposition 8, a voter-approved initiative to define marriage in the Golden State as the union of one man and one woman, gay marriage will once again dominate the headlines.

This issue has proven nettlesome for both parties. President Obama has tried to soft-pedal his opposition to same-sex marriage by professing his support for "equivalent rights" (whatever that means) for gay people. Meanwhile, Scott Schmidt, a former senior strategist to the McCain campaign has urged Republican candidates to "steer clear of divisive social issues" like gay marriage and abortion in order to become more electorally "viable."

At the same time as Schmidt advises the GOP to avoid gay marriage, citizens across the country continue to vote in favor of initiatives like Prop 8 which block states from recognizing same-sex unions as marriages. Despite such popular opposition, courts in four states (Massachusetts, California, Connecticut, and Iowa) have ruled that their jurisdictions must recognize same-sex marriages (with Prop 8 invalidating the California ruling). State legislatures in three states (Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine) have passed legislation recognizing same-sex marriages (with New Hampshire's Democratic Governor John Lynch vetoing the bill, "asking the legislature to include language that would protect churches and other religious institutions from prosecution if, for example, they refuse to perform same-sex marriages.")

With gay marriage remaining at the forefront of our national consciousness, the Republican Party, seeking to rebuild after losses in two successive national elections, struggles to address the issue without alienating young voters and socially liberal suburbanites who share the GOP's fiscal and national security principles but are wary of backing socially conservative candidates.

Michael S. Steele, chairman of the Republican National Committee, believes in "recasting gay marriage as an issue that could dent pocketbooks as small businesses spend more on health care and other benefits." This "recasting" could allow the party to bring together social conservatives (who oppose gay marriage on moral grounds) and small businessmen and libertarians (who opposed additional federal and state mandates on private enterprise). But if state recognition of same-sex marriage imposes burdens (by requiring businesses to provide benefits to same-sex spouses), wouldn't state recognition of traditional marriage be an even greater burden? There are far more different-sex couples than same-sex couples -- even in states which have recognized same-sex marriages.