Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL), the key Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, says that he could support a gay Supreme Court justice, The Hill reports.
"I'm not inclined to think that's an automatic disqualification," Session said of the prospect of a gay justice. Gay rights groups have called on President Obama to install an openly gay justice.
"I may disagree with some legal opinion on those issues, but I think fundamentally it will be up to the president to submit somebody who would unite the country and would be a clear statement of a mainstream judge who commits himself to the law," he added.
It's a significant statement for Sessions, who was ranked the fifth most conservative U.S. senator by National Journal in 2007. Sessions also drew fire years ago for making statements that some legislators have considered racially insensitive.
The senator is well acquainted with the vagaries of judicial confirmation, having gone through that process himself in 1986 when he was nominated to a federal judgeship by President Reagan. The Senate Judiciary Committee eventually rejected his nomination.
The rest of the Republican party replied in similarly muted tones about the possibility of a gay justice. "It's not been part of the calculus for me," said Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.
"I don't look at disqualifying people, I look at qualifying them. A judge who is qualified to me is someone who doesn't legislate from the bench," added Sen. Johnny Isakson of Georgia.
But others warned that it may be too soon for such a step.
"It seems to me this first pick is going to be a kind of important one, and my hope is that he'll play it a little more down the middle," GOP Chief Deputy Whip John Thune said. "A lot of people would react very negatively."