Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney (R) said Thursday that he believes gay couples should be allowed to adopt children, even as he reiterated his view that marriage is defined as a relationship between a man and a woman.

In an interview with Neil Cavuto of Fox Business Network, Romney was asked whether he believes the gay marriage debate is a new civil rights movement, as some Democrats have framed the issue.

“I don’t see it in that light,” Romney responded. “I believe my record as a person who has supported civil rights is strong and powerful. At the same time, I believe that marriage has been defined the same way for literally thousands of years by virtually every civilization in history and that marriage is by its definition a relationship between a man and woman.”

He added that “if two people of the same gender want to live together, want to have a loving relationship, even want to adopt a child — in my state, individuals of the same sex are able to adopt children. In my view, that’s something which people have the right to do, but to call that marriage is, in my view, a departure from the real meaning of the word.”

It was not immediately clear from the interview whether Romney believes gay couples across the country should be allowed to adopt, or whether adoption is an issue best left to the states.

Earlier in the same interview, Romney said that he backs “a national standard that defines marriage as a relationship between a man and a woman.”

That standard, he continued, “would then allow states to determine what rights would be provided for people of the same gender that wanted to have a relationship.”

Romney has made similar statements in the past. In 2006, as governor of Massachusetts, Romney told the Boston Globe that same-sex couples have “a legitimate interest in being able to receive adoptive services.” In 1994, he told the Boston Herald, “I would leave it [gay adoption] up to the states. I would not oppose it or require it.”

At an appearance at a South Carolina Republican event in February 2005, however, Romney appeared to oppose the notion of gay couples raising children.

“The court forgot that marriage is first and foremost about nurturing and developing children,” Romney said at the event. “Its ruling meant that our society is supposed to be indifferent about whether children have a mother or father.”

He continued: “Today, same-sex couples are marrying under the law in Massachusetts. Some are actually having children born to them. We’ve been asked to change their birth certificates to remove the phrase ‘mother’ and ‘father’ and replace it with ‘Parent A’ and ‘Parent B.’ It’s not right on paper, it’s not right in fact. Every child deserves to have a mother and father.”

Staff writers Dan Eggen and Philip Rucker and researcher Alice Crites contributed to this report.