Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele said last week that the legalization of same-sex marriage would hurt small business by increasing healthcare and benefit costs for employers.

"All of a sudden I've got someone who wasn't a spouse, that I had no responsibility for, who is now getting claimed as a spouse, and I now have financial responsibility for," Steele said at the state convention in Georgia. "So how do I pay for that? Who pays for that? You just cost me money."

Steele claims the party can reach more voters, particularly socially liberal, fiscally conservative youth and minorities, by shifting the gay marriage debate away from being a civil rights issue to making it a business concern. But some advocates say the financial toll on small business owners will be insignificant.

"I've worked here for seven years, and not once has anyone raised that concern," says Molly Brogan, vice president of public affairs for the National Small Business Association. "It doesn't seem to be a huge issue to small business owners, and according to recent research, the cost of providing domestic partner benefits is negligible." She points to a 2005 study by management consulting firm Hewitt Associates, which reports that the majority of businesses surveyed experience total financial impact of less than one percent of total benefit cost.

Besides, Brogan says, Steele's argument is more anti-marriage than anti-gay marriage. "I heard a reporter say that would be the same thing as saying small businesses don't want their single employees to get married. And from what I've seen, most small businesses aren't in the business of inserting themselves into their employees' personal lives on that level."