On Thursday night, former Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman filed an amicus brief with the Supreme Court urging the justices to rule in favor of nationwide marriage equality. Ever since the court took the case, dozens of these briefs have been rolling in—but Mehlman’s is notable for a very specific reason: It is signed by 303 conservatives, many of whom opposed gay marriage in the past, all of whom now believe the Constitution grants same-sex couples the right to marry.
And Mehlman didn’t just round up a bunch of obscure state representatives. Included among the signers are Sens. Susan Collins and Mark Kirk; former Utah Gov. (and former and likely future presidential candidate) Jon Huntsman; Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker; former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani; retired Gen. Stanley McChrystal; former Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz; former Sen. Alan Simpson; former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge; and Republican bankroller David Koch. The all-star cast of socially moderate Republicans goes on for 23 pages.
The brief itself is nothing special; in rather plain terms, it explains why the equal protection clause and the due process clause require the government to treat gay people with “equal dignity.” But this brief isn’t really about substance. It’s about showing the Supreme Court that gay marriage isn’t a mere partisan issue and that large chunks of the GOP are ready to stand behind a pro-equality ruling.
In the run-up to United States v. Windsor, Mehlman filed a similar brief—which drew only 131 signatures—clearly aimed at Justice Anthony Kennedy. This time around, the effort seems more squarely aimed at Chief Justice John Roberts, whose wavering vote may be won over by the dozens of business luminaries who signed the brief. A 6-3 ruling in favor of marriage equality would give the decision a boost of legitimacy and nonpartisanship. Mehlman may ultimately fail to draw Roberts’ support. But his merry band of pro-marriage Republicans makes a damned persuasive case.