01/14/2011 10:33 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Gay-Rights Groups Protest Renewed DOJ Defense Of DOMA

WASHINGTON -- The detente between the gay-rights community and the Obama administration after the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell" was always bound to end, as that one major legislative victory gave way to tougher debates over marriage and workplace discrimination, but it's nonetheless a bit surprising how quickly the two camps have resumed sparring.

On Thursday, as Politico reported, gay-rights advocates criticized the Justice Department for filing another legal brief defending the Defense of Marriage Act, the 1996 law that defines the federal government's view of marriage as a union between a man and a woman.

DOJ spokeswoman Tracy Shmaler told The Huffington Post the department was merely fulfilling its legal obligations, "defending the statute, as it traditionally does when acts of Congress are challenged."

But LGBT groups have long since soured on this line of defense, arguing that President Barack Obama could simply declare the government uninterested in backing DOMA's constitutionality, allowing it to be struck down.

Precedent certainly falls on the side of the Justice Department in this debate. But legal experts aren't sold on the administration's claim that defending DOMA is the only option.

The politics, however, are much more fascinating than the legal vagaries, in part because of Obama's own place in civil-rights history.

"The repeal of 'don't ask, don't tell' was a breathtaking accomplishment," Richard Socarides, president of the gay-rights group Equality Matters, told The Huffington Post. "President Obama will get credit. But from this point forward he has a choice. If he builds on it, he could become the MLK for the gays. But if he continues to allow the Justice Department to file these briefs opposing full equality, he will squander an historic opportunity."

Using the legacy of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. as an enticement for presidential leadership is a fairly direct card for the LGBT community to play. It's made a bit more timely and poignant by the fact the Monday marks the nation's observance of King's birthday.