(Photo: Reuters/Chris Keane)
Jon Huntsman, former governor of Utah who unsuccessfully ran as a moderate Republican for the GOP presidential nomination in 2012, has recently spoken out in favor of same-sex marriage, arguing that conservatives must support same-sex marriage because it is "the right thing to do," and also because it will help them stay relevant in the political arena.
"The marketplace of ideas will render us irrelevant, and soon, if we are not honest about our time and place in history," Huntsman, a mormon, wrote in an op-ed in The American Conservative on Thursday.
"Conservatives should start to lead again and push their states to join the nine others that allow all their citizens to marry," Huntsman continued. "There is nothing conservative about denying other Americans the ability to forge that same relationship with the person they love."
Huntsman went on to argue that if Republicans support same-sex marriage, it will better allow them to be heard by the American public.
"This is both the right thing to do and will better allow us to confront the real choice our country is facing: a choice between the Founders' vision of a limited government that empowers free markets, with a level playing field giving opportunity to all, and a world of crony capitalism and rent-seeking by the most powerful economic interests," Huntsman added.
"We are at a crossroads. I believe the American people will vote for free markets under equal rules of the game – because there is no opportunity or job growth any other way. But the American people will not hear us out if we stand against their friends, family, and individual liberty," he concluded.
The former governor clarified in his op-ed that his support for same-sex marriage does not mean that the state should force religious organizations to recognize relationships that counter their convictions.
While running for the GOP primary in 2012, Huntsman voiced his support for civil unions among same-sex couples, but stayed opposed to same-sex marriage.
"I believe in traditional marriage," the former Utah governor and U.S. ambassador to China told CNN in 2011.
"I don't think you can redefine marriage from the traditional sense," Huntsman previously said.
Huntsman's support for same-sex marriage comes the same week that the Respect for Marriage Coalition released a commercial featuring U.S. President Barack Obama, former first lady Laura Bush, former vice president Dick Cheney, and former secretary of state Colin Powell, all voicing their support for same-sex marriage.
Former first lady Bush has since requested that she be removed from the commercial, as she has no affiliation with the coalition.
Critics suggest that Huntsman's recent support for same-sex marriage proves that he may be running for the 2016 presidential election, as he has not officially denied his plans to run, and he has become more outspoken since December 2012, according to The Salt Lake Tribune.
"Back in 2011 and 2012, some far-sighted analysts wondered whether Huntsman, who was so obviously out of touch with the Republican base, was playing the longest of long games: Establishing his place near the center of the political spectrum on the bet that the GOP would lose in 2012 and come running back to him and his moderate ilk in 2016," writes The Week.
"The Republican Party may not be there yet, but Huntsman is surely making a bet now – that supporting gay marriage is the future of the GOP," The Week added.
In response to Huntsman's recent claims, Ally Isom, a spokeswoman for Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, issued a brief statement to the Deseret News.
"Gov. Herbert supports traditional marriage between one man and one woman," Isom said, according to the Deseret News.
Critics contend that Huntsman's recent support for same-sex marriage will make him more popular to Democrats, but will do little to help him win Republican favor, as the majority of Republicans oppose same-sex marriage.
Many argue that Huntsman's recent comments do not reflect the sentiment of the Republican Party.
For example, Marco Rubio, the Republican junior U.S. Senator from Florida who has been described by many as the "savior" of the Republican Party and an up-and-coming politician, has expressed his opposition to same-sex marriage, as well as the "breakdown of the American family."
Chris Christie, another well-liked Republican who many expect will run for the 2016 election, has also expressed his opposition to same-sex marriage, arguing that he will not compromise his personal principles for political gain, as some suggest Huntsman is doing.
"I would not compromise my principles for politics," Christie said in a February 2012 interview with CNN's Piers Morgan.
"You're saying 'will it become politically unpopular to have the position I'm having.' If it does, so be it. I don't compromise my principles for politics," Christie added.