Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney (R) on Thursday separated his views on same-sex marriage from his personal religious beliefs, telling a local Omaha TV station that his stance on gay rights stems from his belief of what’s “right for the nation” rather than from his Mormon faith.

Mitt Romney greets supporters during a campaign stop in Omaha on Thursday. (Alyssa Schukar — AP Photo/Omaha World-Herald)

“As a society, I think we’re better off if we encourage the establishment of homes with a mother and a father,” Romney told KETA-TV in an interview after his Thursday afternoon rally at an Omaha riverside restaurant.

Asked whether religion played a role in his position, Romney responded, “I indicated that’s based entirely upon a civil understanding of the needs of a society like our own.”

Pressed again on whether his faith had “any weight” in the decision, Romney said it did not.

“It’s not a religious decision,” he told KETA-TV. “It’s based upon what I believe is right for the nation and the building of strong generations for the future.”

The statement by Romney is, on the one hand, in line with his tendency on the trail to keep the focus on the economy rather than on his own personal religious beliefs.

But, on the other hand, its timing could be problematic for Romney: The remark comes ahead of the former Massachusetts governor’s planned commencement address Saturday at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va.

The college, founded by the late Dr. Jerry Falwell, is the world’s largest university for evangelical Christians — many of whom, as BuzzFeed’s McKay Coppins reports, remain skeptical of Romney’s Mormon faith.