Note this: New York recently legalized gay marriage without having to consult with Tennessee, Nebraska and Idaho. Alabama limited the right to abortion without having to compromise with California, Massachusetts and Hawaii. With Washington, D.C., in disarray, this has been a busy time for states going their own way.

Does the trend represent federalism at its best or growing national disunity and polarization? The answer to both questions is “yes.” And the first may offer a solution to the second. For controversies around such matters as guns, marriage and voter ID, having the states choose their own path in harmony with local sensibilities acts to release tensions.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry, a likely Republican candidate for president, recently raised some conservative hackles by saying it was “fine” for New York to legalize gay marriage. But then he lowered some conservative hackles by characterizing abortion as a states’ rights issue. Perry deems himself “pro-life,” and we know that letting states ban abortion requires first overturning Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision that effectively legalized the procedure.

Perry rests his case on the 10th Amendment, which says: “The powers not delegated to the (federal government) by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” This division of powers underlies the principle of federalism.

In the end, no one would have to live in a state that forbids abortion. No one would have to live in a state that lets illegal immigrants pay in-state tuition to attend public colleges, if that’s something he or she can’t abide. We refer to Connecticut, Illinois and Maryland.

For more information, check out this resource on the 10th Amendment:

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