Past transgressions and extramarital affairs aren’t sticking points for social conservatives looking to rally behind a Republican presidential candidate, said Tony Perkins, the influential conservative leader and president of the Family Research Council.

Amid concerns that Mitt Romney will slide into the GOP nomination due to splintering in the social conservative movement, Perkins on Wednesday sought to move the conversation beyond Newt Gingrich’s marital history.

On Saturday, a group of about 150 movement leaders met in Texas — with Perkins as their spokesman — and decided to back Rick Santorum. But reports soon emerged from the closed meeting that evangelical leader James Dobson, while lauding Santorum’s wife, had pointedly observed that Gingrich’s current wife, Callista, was previously his "mistress for eight years.”

“The evangelicals, the social conservatives — and there were a lot of Catholics represented there — they understand forgiveness,” Perkins said Wednesday on MSNBC. “Newt Gingrich’s past or any candidate’s past is their past.”

Lest that be construed as a defense of Gingrich and his candidacy, Perkins made clear that conservatives want a candidate they trust will be true to the vision they articulate and will carry forward a truly conservative agenda — and that Gingrich doesn't appear to be that candidate.

“Even in recent times, he has not necessarily stayed true to that path of conservatism,” said Perkins.