President Barack Obama’s administration is refusing to defend a federal law which upholds the traditional definition of marriage, claiming it is “unconstitutional”.
The 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) defines marriage as a legal union between one man and one woman.
But last week the Department of Justice announced that it would no longer defend the Act, a decision which has been heavily criticised.
Austin R Nimocks, Senior Legal Counsel at the Alliance Defense Fund, said: “The American people have a right to expect their laws to be defended by the very people whose job it is to do so: their government officials.
“But the administration is making clear that they are simply not going to defend marriage. Marriage is a unifying issue in America.
“The federal Defense of Marriage Act reflects the reality that 90 percent of states protect marriage and that the citizens in those states believe in marriage as a union only between one man and one woman.
“Tragically, the Department of Justice has chosen to appease a small – but vocal and wealthy – constituency and abandon its duty to the people.”
The announcement has also drawn sharp criticism from Republicans.
Commenting on the decision Sarah Palin, the former Governor of Alaska, said: “I have always believed that marriage is between one man and one woman.
“Like the majority of Americans, I support the Defense of Marriage Act and find it appalling that the Obama administration decided not to defend this federal law which was enacted with broad bipartisan support and signed into law by a Democrat president.”
Former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum said: “Here you have a president of the United States who’s walking away from his constitutional duty to defend the law of the country.”
The Obama administration’s decision was prompted by a court-ordered deadline in two pending legal challenges to DOMA.
But since last week’s announcement, Republicans in the House of Representatives have declared their intention to defend DOMA against the challenges.
John Boehner, the House of Representatives’ speaker, said: “If the President won’t lead, if the President won’t defend DOMA, then you’ll see the House of Representatives defend our actions in passing a bill that frankly passed overwhelmingly”.
Republican leaders in the House of Representatives are expected to decide how they will proceed in defending DOMA by the end of this week.
Jay Carney, a spokesman for the White House, said that President Obama is “still grappling” with his personal views on homosexual marriage, but thinks that the law is unfair.
Homosexual marriage has long been a contentious issue in American politics and in some states it has been imposed on the electorate through judicial activism.
However, each time the issue has been put to a vote of the American people it has been rejected.