Former Utah governor and 2012 presidential candidate Jon Huntsman on Thursday called on fellow Republicans to embrace gay marriage.

In an op-ed in the American Conservative, Huntsman said the party of Lincoln “should stand with our best tradition of equality and support full civil marriage for all Americans.”

“[I]t's difficult to get people even to consider your reform ideas if they think, with good reason, you don't like or respect them. Building a winning coalition to tackle the looming fiscal and trust deficits will be impossible if we continue to alienate broad segments of the population. We must be happy warriors who refuse to tolerate those who want Hispanic votes but not Hispanic neighbors. We should applaud states that lead on reforming drug policy. And, consistent with the Republican Party's origins, we must demand equality under the law for all Americans.”

“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. I've been married for 29 years. My marriage has been the greatest joy of my life. There is nothing conservative about denying other Americans the ability to forge that same relationship with the person they love.”

It is the first time Huntsman himself has endorsed marriage equality. As late as last September, while being honored by Equality Utah, the state's largest gay rights advocate, Huntsman reiterated his support for civil unions.

Young Conservatives for the Freedom to Marry applauded Huntsman for his support.

“Like a growing number of conservatives, Jon Huntsman believes in fairness and freedom and has come to agree that nothing short of marriage for same-sex couples can fulfill these basic principles,” the group said in a statement. “Ensuring the freedom to marry for gay and lesbian people promotes America's conservative values of limited government, individual responsibility, and our foundation of liberty and justice for all. We urge other conservatives to complete their own journeys towards support for the freedom to marry and to stand on the right side of history.”