Texas Governor and potential 2012 Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry said on Friday that he supported New York's legalization of gay marriage, citing states' rights.

Perry described himself recently to the New Hampshire Union Leader as "an unapologetic social conservative," and he signed an amendment to the Texas state Constitution in 2005 outlawing gay unions. But he told a group of Republicans at a forum sponsored by the Aspen Institute that states should preserve a measure of autonomy from the federal government in enacting laws that are right for them.

"Our friends in New York six weeks ago passed a statute that said marriage can be between two people of the same sex. And you know what? That's New York, and that's their business, and that's fine with me," Perry said.  "That is their call. If you believe in the 10th Amendment, stay out of their business."

Given the fact that Perry is widely reported to be weighing a presidential run, his statement was immediately subject to scrutiny -- Rick Santorum, a candidate who has a reputation as a staunch social conservative, tweeted "So Gov Perry, if a state wanted to allow polygamy or if they chose to deny heterosexuals the right to marry, would that be OK too?"

But Perry's support for states' rights is consistent with a philosophy running through the Republican field that the federal government should be less large and intrusive. That sentiment drove much of the backlash against President Barack Obama's health care law and informs the Tea Party's limited government ideology. While criticizing Obama at a 2009 Tea Party rally, Perry suggested that Texas could secede from the rest of the country.