In what is being seen as a major U-turn, former US House Speaker Newt Gingrich believes the Republican Party should accept the idea of same-sex civil marriages.

The Republican veteran, who lost out to Mitt Romney for his party’s 2012 presidential nomination, said he thinks the GOP needs to “accommodate and deal with reality” and accept civil legal equality for gay couples.

The remarks by Gingrich are all the more surprising as he pushed for the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) through the US Congress in 1996.

DOMA banned federal recognition of gay couples and President Obama stopped supporting the law in July 2011.

Several lower district courts have already ruled that DOMA is unconstitutional.

The US Supreme Court is now to decide on the law’s future.

Although Gingrich continues to state that marriage is between a man and a woman, the Huffington Post reports him suggesting the GOP could accept a distinction between a “marriage in a church from a legal document issued by the state” — the latter being acceptable for gay couples in his opinion.

In light of November’s decision of several US states to pass equal marriage measures, Gringrich went on to say:

“The momentum is clearly now in the direction in finding some way to… accommodate and deal with reality. And the reality is going to be that in a number of American states — and it will be more after 2014 — gay relationships will be legal, period.”

He said: “I didn’t think that was inevitable 10 or 15 years ago, when we passed the Defense of Marriage Act.

“It didn’t seem at the time to be anything like as big a wave of change as we are now seeing.”

Gingrich previously said the movement towards marriage equality was a “temporary aberration that will dissipate” and compared same-sex relationships to “pagan behaviours.”

In December 2011, his lesbian half-sister Candace, criticised her brother’s stance on gay rights, described him as egotistical, and announced her firm support for President’s Obama’s re-election campaign.

Newt Gingrich has been married three times.