(Photo: REUTERS/Larry Downing)
A group of mostly lesser-known Republicans will file a "friend of the court" brief this week supporting gay marriage for a case that is before the Supreme Court. Most of those identified are moderate or liberal Republicans who are not currently holding or campaigning for an elected office.
The New York Times, which broke the story on Monday, reports that dozens of Republicans will sign the brief, but it only names 14.
They include former Utah governor and presidential candidate Jon Huntsman, former California gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman, former George W. Bush national security adviser Stephen Hadley, former George W. Bush Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez, former George W. Bush Justice Department official James Comey, Ronald Reagan budget director David Stockman, former campaign adviser Steve Schmidt, former Congresswoman Deborah Pryce, former New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whitman, and former Massachusetts Governor's William Weld and Jane Swift.
The only elected officials named known to be on the list are House members Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (Fla.) and Richard Hanna (N.Y.).
The filing was organized by Ken Mehlman, who worked on George W. Bush's 2004 campaign and was chair of the Republican National Committee during Bush's second term. Mehlman revealed that he is gay after he left the RNC.
The case involves California's Proposition 8, a ballot initiative supported by California voters that defines marriage as between one man and one woman. The court will also hear a case this term that challenges the Defense of Marriage Act, a law that defines marriage for the purposes of federal law.
The brief will make a conservative case for gay marriage, suggesting that it is consistent with limited government and personal liberty.
Huntsman had already announced last week that he changed his position and now supports gay marriage.
"There is nothing conservative about denying other Americans the ability to forge that same relationship with the person they love," Huntsman wrote in a Friday op-ed.
With few prominent Republicans known to be on the list so far, it is unclear what impact the brief could have.
Supreme Court analyst Tom Goldstein told The New York Times that the brief could be important because conservatives on the bench would be more likely to be persuaded by it than by an argument from a gay rights activist group.
Other conservatives have argued that maintaining a traditional understanding of marriage is consistent with a conservative philosophy, because when marriage fails, government must grow bigger to fill the void.
"Everything depends on marriage," Robert P. George, McCormick professor of jurisprudence at Princeton University, has said, "because it is the fundamental unit of society, the original and best department of health, education and welfare, supplying what every other institution in society needs, depends on, for its own flourishing, but which none of those institutions can supply for themselves."