Tuesday, February 26, 2013

'Once inconceivable': Republican leaders sign pro-gay marriage brief

Supporters of same-sex marriage hope for a boost this week when dozens of high-profile Republicans, many no longer in office, submit their legal argument to the Supreme Court on why gays and lesbians should be allowed to wed, bucking their party platform.

In a move described by one scholar as “inconceivable” just two years ago, 75 Republicans have signed the brief to be filed in the case of Proposition 8, a California law banning same-sex marriage, The New York Times reported. The nation’s high court will hear arguments on the law in late March.

Four former governors, including Christine Todd Whitman of New Jersey, and members of President George W. Bush’s cabinet, such as former Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez, signed the brief, the Times reported. Some of those, such as Meg Whitman, who ran for California governor in 2010, had once opposed same-sex marriage.

The brief will be filed Thursday, according to the Human Rights Campaign, a gay rights group.

Michael Klarman, a Harvard Law School professor and author of “From the Closet to the Altar: Courts, Backlash, and the Struggle for Same-Sex Marriage,” called it an “incredibly important development” and noted the brief could influence Justice Anthony Kennedy, whom he said was the swing vote on gay marriage.

“The fact that more and more Republicans are coming out in favor of gay marriage simply confirms how dramatic the shift in public opinion has been -- and that is a fact that likely is of great significance to Justice Kennedy,” he wrote to NBC News in an email. “Even two years ago, it would have been inconceivable that this many prominent Republicans would have been willing to buck their party platform on the issue.”

One of those who signed the brief was former Utah governor and Republican presidential candidate Jon Huntsman. In an article last week, Huntsman wrote that as governor he had backed civil unions but now was supporting marriage for gays and lesbians.

“The party of Lincoln should stand with our best tradition of equality and support full civil marriage for all Americans,” he wrote. “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’s argument echoed parts of the legal brief, which the Times said made the case that allowing same-sex marriage would promote conservative ideals of limited government and individual freedom as well as provide the children of gay couples a two-parent home.

The legal brief was dismissed by the National Organization for Marriage, which on Monday pledged $500,000 to defeat Republican lawmakers supporting any law to allow same-sex marriage in Minnesota, a state considering such legislation.

“None of these people are actively in politics. They are not running for office because they know … supporting same-sex marriage will end your career if you’re a Republican,” he said. “There’s overwhelming support for traditional marriage in the Republican Party, that’s why it’s part of the party platform, and any attempt by the establishment to redefine marriage and redefine what it means to be a conservative will mean the death of the Republican party.”

But LGBT groups said the brief was further proof of changing attitudes on the issue.

“As opposition to the freedom to marry becomes increasingly isolated and the exclusion from marriage increasingly indefensible, Americans all across the political spectrum are saying it's time to end marriage discrimination, do right by families, and get our country on the right side of history," Evan Wolfson, founder and president of Freedom to Marry, said in a statement.

The Supreme Court will also hear arguments in late March on the Defense of Marriage Act, which bars federal recognition of same-sex marriage. The Obama administration has encouraged the justices to strike it down. In its argument, the federal government noted Proposition 8 and similar measures in other states was evidence that anti-gay discrimination remained a major problem.

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