The National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) expresses its disappointment with the administration’s decision to no longer defend the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and calls on Congress to protect the legislation, which in 1996 passed with wide margins in both houses of Congress and was signed into law by President Clinton.

According to Attorney General Eric Holder’s announcement on Feb. 23, the Justice Department will not defend new lawsuits involving constitutional challenges to DOMA. This is a break with the time honored legal tradition in which the Justice Department works to uphold laws that are passed by Congress.

“We disagree with the Obama administration’s decision not to defend traditional marriage,” said Leith Anderson, NAE President. “We hope that Congress will hire its own lawyers to vigorously defend DOMA in federal courts.”

Earlier this year, the NAE, which represents 45,000 churches from over 40 different denominations and serves a constituency of millions, and several religious groups filed an amici curiae brief supporting DOMA after a federal judge ruled that Section 3 of the law is unconstitutional, suggesting that Congress does not have the authority to define what “marriage” means for purposes of federal law.

DOMA defines marriage as “only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife” and defines spouse as “only a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife.” DOMA also protects states from being required to recognize same-sex marriages contracted in other states or the District of Columbia.

“Marriage is foundational to a healthy society in which children enjoy the care and nurture of both their mother and father,” Anderson said. “Radically redefining marriage will have a far-reaching impact on the health of our nation.”

Congress now has 30 days to decide whether it will intervene in the lawsuits and defend the law. The House of Representatives, the Senate, or both can appoint legal counsel to defend DOMA in the courts. If Congress fails to do so, the judge’s ruling will stand.