High-profile Republicans sign brief supporting gay marriage

Dozens of well-known members of the GOP — including former and current representatives and past governors — have attached their names to a legal brief that asks the Supreme Court to support same-sex marriage.

As the Supreme Court prepares to hear arguments next month in two cases involving the ban of same-sex marriages, at least 75 prominent Republicans have signed a legal brief voicing their support for gay marriage.

Four former governors, two sitting members of Congress and dozens of former aides and advisers added their names to the document that argues gay couples have a constitutional right to marry, a position Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner and a large swath of GOP lawmakers disagree with.

The New York Times, which obtained a copy of the brief, reports that those Republicans supporting the brief and same-sex marriage include former Massachusetts governors Jane Swift and William Weld, Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida and Richard Hanna of New York and former presidential candidate John Huntsman, who opposed same-sex marriage during his 2012 presidential bid but recently announced his support for the issue.

The brief also received the blessing of Theodore B. Olson, the former solicitor general under President George W. Bush. Olson is the lead lawyer for the suit against Proposition 8, the California ballot initiative that barred same-sex marriage in the state.

The brief aims to sway conservative justices to strike down Prop. 8 and the 1996 federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which defined marriage as between one man and one woman and banned interstate recognition of gay marriage rights. President Barack Obama last year announced his administration's refusal to defend DOMA in court, which left the House Republican leadership to fight for it. House Republicans authorized $3 million to protect DOMA, according to Salon.com.

Among the brief's signers are former California gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman, who supported Prop. 8 when she ran for office, and retired Rep. Deborah Pryce of Ohio. Prior to signing the document, Pryce had not come out in support of gay rights.

"Like a lot of the country, my views have evolved on this from the first day I set foot in Congress," Price told the Times. "I think it’s just the right thing, and I think it’s on solid legal footing, too."

In the brief and in court, Olson will argue that marriage equality is in line with Republican principles. The brief states that same-sex marriage promotes family values by allowing the children of gay couples to grow up in two-parent homes. The brief also states that gay marriage agrees with conservative principles like limited government and maximized individual freedom. It cites the abolition of past bans that were reviled by conservatives — such as Citizens United and the prohibition of handgun ownership in Washington, D.C. — as evidence that bans do not mesh with GOP initiatives.

Since 2003, the public's support for gay marriage has swelled. In that year, only one-third of Americans supported same-sex marriage, while today a majority favors it. Still, the issue remains widely contentious in GOP circles. Older and Southern voters are more likely to oppose gay rights. Gay Republican groups are currently barred from attending CPAC, a major conservative conference in Washington, D.C.

Ken Mehlman, the former chairman of the Republican National Committee, who came out as gay several years ago and worked behind closed doors to get signatures for the legal brief, stressed that the document's Republican signers are telling the court that same-sex equality and conservatism aren't mutually exclusive propositions.

"We are trying to say to the court that we are judicial and political conservatives, and it is consistent with our values and philosophy for you to overturn Proposition 8," he told the Times.

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