Karl Rove, the Republican strategist who was Senior Advisor to George W Bush during his presidency, has said he could imagine that the 2016 Republican presidential candidate will support marriage equality.

Mr Rove made the remark on ABC’s “This Week” programme on Sunday 24 March.

The show’s host, George Stephanopoulos, asked Mr Rove: “Can you imagine the next presidential campaign, a Republican candidate saying flat out I am for gay marriage?”

Mr Rove replied: “I could.”

However, he went on to predict that this week’s upcoming Supreme Court hearings on Proposition 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) will not result in the national legalisation of same-sex marriage.

He said a significant majority of Supreme Court Justices would vote for states to be able to make their own laws on the subject.

“What we may see is a decision here that, in essence, is not a 5-4 decision, but a 6-3, 7-2 [decision] that says leave it up to the states. In fact, we could see an 8-1,” he said.

On 26 March, the court will take up the case of whether to overturn Proposition 8, which in 2008 added a clause to the Californian constitution stating that marriage could only be recognised by the state if it were between a man and a woman, causing widespread controversy.

The Supreme Court is also due on 27 March to hear evidence around the case of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which defines marriage as between a man and a woman, passed under President Bill Clinton in 1996.

Marriage equality still attracts significant opposition within the Republican Party, but it is also starting to see more open support.

Last week Republican Senator Rob Portman, who was among the original sponsors of DOMA, announced that he has changed his anti-equal marriage stance, following the personal revelation of his own son’s coming out as gay.

He added this weekend that the response he had received from other Republicans had been “very respectful”, although he acknowledged that they were a “split group” in terms of their opinions on the subject.