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(Reuters) - Former Republican presidential candidate Jon Huntsman voiced support for gay marriage on Thursday, reversing his position and urging the Republican Party to be more supportive of gays and lesbians who want to marry.
Huntsman, a former U.S. ambassador to China and governor of Utah widely viewed as a moderate, made the announcement in an op-ed piece published online in The American Conservative magazine.
"I've been married for 29 years. My marriage has been the greatest joy of my life," he wrote. "There is nothing conservative about denying other Americans the ability to forge that same relationship with the person they love."
His comments appeared in an article titled "Marriage Equality Is a Conservative Cause."
"Today we have an opportunity to do more: conservatives should start to lead again and push their states to join the nine others that allow all their citizens to marry," Huntsman wrote.
Nine of the 50 U.S. states plus the District of Columbia have legalized gay marriage. Maryland was the most recent, with gay marriage becoming legal there on January 1.
Huntsman backed civil unions for gays and lesbians when he was governor of Utah. While he ran for the Republican presidential nomination, Huntsman told CNN, "I don't think you can redefine marriage from the traditional sense."
Huntsman abandoned his bid for the Republican nomination in January 2012 after his campaign failed to gain traction and he finished third in the New Hampshire primary.
Reporting by Kevin Gray; Editing by Paul Thomasch and Andrew Hay