By Lana Schupbach
February 26, 2013

In a sharp turn from a historically conservative position on gay marriage, a staggering number of prominent Republicans have signed a legal brief arguing that gay and lesbian couples have the right to legally marry under the Constitution.

According to the New York Times, 75 Republican officials and strategists—ranging from former presidential candidate Jon Huntsman to former New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whitman—have signed an amicus to be delivered to the Supreme Court this week as the Court prepares to decide on two landmark cases involving gay marriage next month.

The news provides further evidence of the civil war said to be brewing within the Republican Party as House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, is poised to spend up to $3 million in defense of DOMA—the law which prohibits same-sex married couples from receiving federal benefits.

The amicus, also known as a friend-of-the-court brief, argues that same-sex marriage promotes family values by allowing children of gay couples to be raised in two-parent homes and advances conservative values of “limited government and maximizing individual freedom.”

The brief, which was released exclusively to the Times, is expected to influence the Supreme Court justices as they weigh the constitutionality of California’s Proposition 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act next month.

Legal analysts said the brief had the potential to sway conservative justices as much for the prominent names attached to it as for its legal arguments. The list of signers includes a string of Republican officials and influential thinkers — 75 as of Monday evening — who are not ordinarily associated with gay rights advocacy, including some who are speaking out for the first time and others who have changed their previous positions.

Among the 75 signers is Steve Schmidt, senior strategist for Sen. John McCain’s 2008 presidential bid.

Schmidt told MSNBC’s Thomas Roberts on Tuesday, “I support marriage equality for gay Americans because of my conservatism, not in spite of it.”

He continued, ”Ultimately gay Americans will receive full and equal treatment under the law and hopefully, the Supreme Court will expedite the day that that happens.”

Former RNC Chair Ken Mehlman also addressed the news in a personal email to Mr. Roberts.

“The men and women who signed this brief are a microcosm of what’s occurring across the U.S. as people come to recognize that civil marriage for all Americans is consistent with freedom and fairness, promotes stronger families and communities, protects children and religious liberty.”

The Supreme Court is expected to begin hearing arguments on Prop 8 and DOMA in late March.