Former Utah governor and Republican presidential candidate Jon Huntsman said Thursday that he favors marriage rights for same-sex couples and encouraged other GOP politicians to follow suit in an op-ed in The American Conservative:

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.

All Americans should be treated equally by the law, whether they marry in a church, another religious institution, or a town hall. This does not mean that any religious group would be forced by the state to recognize relationships that run counter to their conscience. Civil equality is compatible with, and indeed promotes, freedom of conscience.

Huntsman supported civil unions as a governor, but Thursday's announcement marks a shift from the position he took during during the Republican primary.

“I don’t think you can redefine marriage from the traditional sense," Huntsman told CNN's Wolf Blitzer in 2011.

Huntsman stipulated in the column that religious groups should not have to recognize marriages that "run counter to their conscience."

The Fix's Sean Sullivan wrote last month on what Huntsman's statements — many of them critical of the far right — since leaving the presidential primary could mean about his plans for future.