Calling on fellow conservatives to embrace marriage equality to help rebuild their party, former Republican presidential candidate Jon Huntsman, Jr., came out on Thursday in support of same-sex marriage.
In a column for the American Conservative, Huntsman issued the call for Republicans to support civil marriage for same-sex couples because the party is “at a crossroads” after losing the popular vote in five of the last six presidential elections.
“[C]onservatives should start to lead again and push their states to join the nine others that allow all their citizens to marry,” Huntsman writes. “I’ve been married for 29 years. My marriage has been the greatest joy of my life. There is nothing conservative about denying other Americans the ability to forge that same relationship with the person they love.”
As governor of Utah, Huntsman previously came out in support of civil unions even though polling at the time showed 70 percent of people in his state were to opposed to them. During the presidential race, he was seen as the most moderate candidate on LGBT issues among his fellow Republicans, although he told the Washington Blade he supports the anti-gay Defense of Marriage Act because it “serves a useful purpose.”
Huntsman emphasizes in his article that he supports civil marriage for same-sex couples and the legalization of marriage rights for gay couples doesn’t mean “any religious group would be forced by the state to recognize relationships that run counter to their conscience.”
“Marriage is not an issue that people rationalize through the abstract lens of the law; rather it is something understood emotionally through one’s own experience with family, neighbors, and friends,” Huntsman continued. “The party of Lincoln should stand with our best tradition of equality and support full civil marriage for all Americans.”
A national leader of the organization known as No Labels, which seeks to encourage political leaders to act in a bipartisan fashion to address the nation’s problems, Huntsman is known for his willingness to reach across the aisle. Prior to his presidential bid, Huntsman served under President Obama as U.S. ambassador to China.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told the Washington Blade during a news conference on Thursday that he wasn’t aware of Huntsman’s new support for marriage equality, but said it’s in line with Obama’s position and demonstrates the country’s evolution as a whole on LGBT issues.
“I think that what we have seen, and the president has spoken about this, is an evolution, if you will, of views across the country about this issue, about extending rights to LGBT Americans,” Carney said. “And the president feels very strongly about that, as you know. So while this is not news I was aware of, it’s certainly in concert with the president’s views.”
Gregory Angelo, executive director of the Log Cabin Republicans, said Huntsman rightly says the Republican Party needs to realign itself to support same-sex marriage.
“Jon Huntsman is correct: the conservative movement is indeed at a crossroads, and it’s encouraging to see more and more conservative leaders such as Gov. Huntsman walking the road that leads to the right side of history,” Angelo said. “The time is now for the party championing free markets to champion the freedom to marry for all.”
Huntsman isn’t the first former Republican presidential candidate to support same-sex marriage, nor is he the first former Republican governor to do so. Former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson came out for marriage equality while still running for the Republican Party nomination. Also, Fred Karger, a gay activist who ran for president last year as a Republican, supported same-sex marriage.
Huntsman’s support for marriage equality is also noteworthy because he’s a Mormon, a religion whose leaders have opposed same-sex marriage and purport that homosexuality is in violation of God’s law.
David Baker, a spokesperson for the LGBT Mormon group Affirmation, praised Huntsman for adding his voice to those in support of marriage equality.
“Affirmation commends former Gov. Huntsman for his support for full civil marriage equality and agree with him that marriage equality is the ‘right thing to do’ as ‘all Americans should be treated equally by the law,’” Baker said. “We firmly believe that marriage equality strengthens the institution of the family and that gay couples and their children deserve every societal and legal protection afforded to straight couples.”