The top US law official has said state attorneys general are not required to defend laws supporting traditional marriage.
Eric Holder – who heads the Department of Justice – made the comments despite saying such actions should be “rare” and only done in “exceptional circumstances”.
Republicans criticised the comments, saying state lawyers had a duty to defend legislation regardless of personal politics.
In the face of recent legal challenges, at least four state attorneys general have refused to defend laws upholding traditional marriage.
Speaking earlier this week, Holder said: “Any decisions – at any level – not to defend individual laws must be exceedingly rare.
“They must be reserved only for exceptional circumstances. And they must never stem merely from policy or political disagreements – hinging instead on firm constitutional grounds.
“But in general, I believe we must be suspicious of legal classifications based solely on sexual orientation.”
His comments came as a group of African American pastors called for Holder to be removed from office over his attempt to “impose same-sex marriage throughout the nation”.
The Coalition of African American Pastors said: “It’s one thing to make a political argument that gay marriage should be the law, but it’s quite another to take actions that ignore federal law, Supreme Court rulings, and the constitutions of dozens of states that have specifically rejected the redefinition of marriage which the administration is trying to impose”.
It is organising a petition against Holder to “create a groundswell of support”, giving those in the US Congress, “the encouragement necessary to remove this dangerous ideologue from public office”.
Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange, who is part of the Republican Attorneys General Association, hit out at Holder’s comments.
He said a state attorney general has a “solemn duty to the state and its people” to uphold laws.
“To refuse to do so because of personal policy preferences or political pressure erodes the rule of law on which all of our freedoms are founded.
“A government that does not enforce the law equally will lead our society to disrespect the rule of law”, he said.