(CNN) - When Mitt Romney said in an interview Friday it was up to states to determine the rights of gay couples to adopt children, he was expressing a view that many moderate conservatives hold regarding rights for same-sex couples. However, Romney's stance puts him at odds with many social conservatives, whose support he's continuing to court and whose votes he'll need to win the White House in November.
"In my state, individuals of the same sex were able to adopt children. In my view, that's something that people have a right to do," Romney said in an interview with Fox News Thursday. "But to call that marriage is something that in my view is a departure from the real meaning of that word."
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In an interview Friday, he didn't go so far, saying the issue of same-sex adoption was best left to state legislatures.
"Actually I think all states but one allow gay adoption, so that's a position which has been decided by most of the state legislatures, including the one in my state some time ago," Romney said in an interview with CNN affiliate WBTV. "So I simply acknowledge the fact that gay adoption is legal in all states but one."
On CNN Friday, Bay Buchanan, a Romney adviser, summed up the candidate's position.
"He acknowledges it's a state issue," she said. "They had that up in Massachusetts. He did nothing to change it, but he thinks the best route for adoption is for children to have a mom or a dad. He thinks a traditional family is far better for children and those states that do choose to do otherwise he didn't make any attempt to change it. So that's where his position is there."
On same-sex adoption, Romney's view is more moderate than many social conservatives, who argue states are putting children at risk by placing them in same-sex homes. In an interview with CNS News ahead of the Iowa caucuses in January, former candidate Rick Santorum decried the practice.
“The state is not doing a service to the child and to society by not putting that child in a home where there is a mother and a father,” he said. “This is common sense. This is nature."
Later in the interview, Santorum recalled being confronted about his position.
"A lesbian woman came up to me and said, ‘Why are you denying me my right?’ I said, ‘Well, because it’s not a right.’ It’s a privilege that society recognizes because society sees intrinsic value to that relationship over any other relationship," Santorum said.
Janice Crouse, senior fellow at the Beverly LaHaye Institute, a think-tank associated with Concerned Women for America, called putting children in same-sex households "unconscionable."
"It is really unconscionable to place children in other types of households when the data is clear regarding the benefits of married mom-and-dad families and there are plenty of married mom-and-dad families on adoption waiting lists," Crouse said.
Crouse added the question of same-sex adoption was principally a distraction from other issues, like the nation's stalled economic recovery and the unemployment rate.
Asked on CNN if his stance would hurt his standing among Christian evangelicals, Romney adviser Buchanan said most social conservatives were focused on the larger issue of same-sex marriage.
"As for social conservatives, many of them, some of them out there are concerned about those issues," Buchanan said. "I heard a little talk about that today, but the big issue and clearly the most passionate issue they feel about is gay marriage and pro life. And those issues Governor Romney is very solid on. The evangelical community is already beginning, have started to move behind him."
Romney's position on same-sex adoption - that he defers to states to make their own rules - goes back at least 18 years, to 1994. That was the year Romney made his first foray into politics by running for U.S. Senate in Massachusetts. He told the Boston Herald then that he'd leave gay adoption “up to the states. I would not oppose it or require it."
More than a decade later, Romney staked out a similar position while acting as a surrogate for Sen. John McCain during the 2008 presidential election.
Romney was asked by CNN's Wolf Blitzer in a July 2008 interview on "The Situation Room" if he believed states should allow same-sex couples to adopt. Romney pointed to his own record as Massachusetts' governor.
"I didn't oppose that here in Massachusetts," Romney said. "My view was the best setting for a child to be raised was where there was a mom and a dad, but I did not say let's put in place a law that would prevent a court from deciding that a child, instead of being in an orphanage, should be with a same-sex couple, or a single mom or a single dad, you leave that up to the court and let them make that decision."
In March 2012, at a CNN debate in Arizona, Romney took another angle on the issue, saying religious institutions providing adoption services should be exempt from laws allowing gay couples to adopt.
He explained that, as governor as Massachusetts, "we battled to help the Catholic Church stay in the adoption business."
He continued, "The amazing thing was that while the Catholic Church was responsible for half the adoptions in my state - half the adoptions - they had to get out of that business because the legislature wouldn't support me and give them an exemption from having to place children in homes where there was a mom and a dad on a preferential basis."
On this point, Romney is at odds with recent polling that shows a majority of Americans believe religious institutions should not be exempt from providing adoption services to same-sex couples.
More than six-in-10 Americans, as polled by the Public Religion Research Institute in March, said religious agencies receiving federal funding should not be able to refuse to place children with same-sex couples.
In the same survey, a majority of those polled (54%) said they were in support of allowing same-sex couples to adopt. Forty percent opposed same-sex adoption.