Jon Huntsman on Monday endorsed Mitt Romney for president as he stepped out of the GOP presidential nominating contest.

Huntsman made his announcement during a morning press conference in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

Standing next to his wife Mary Kaye Cooper, Huntsman called on the remaining GOP presidential candidates to “cease attacking each other and …. talk to the American people.”

“Today I am suspending my campaign for the presidency,” Huntsman said. “I believe it is now time for our party to unite around the candidate best equipped to defeat Barack Obama. Despite our differences and the space between us on some of the issues I believe that candidate is Governor Mitt Romney.”

The 51-year-old former governor of Utah placed third last week in New Hampshire behind first place finisher Romney and Texas Rep. Ron Paul.

Huntsman, who has struggled to remain a viable candidate, is considered the gay friendliest candidate among the GOP field's six strongest contenders. He has spoken in favor of civil unions for gay and lesbian couples and a state's right to decide on the issue of marriage equality.

Former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson strongly endorsed gay marriage shortly before he switched party affiliation from the GOP to the Libertarian Party, whose presidential nomination he is now seeking. Fred Karger is the only GOP presidential candidate in favor of gay marriage, but his low polling numbers have locked him out of all Republican debates.