Even before yesterday's announcement that gay rights activists were suing the federal government to recognize legal gay marriages, social conservatives had already begun a preemptive effort to defend the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).

Alarmed at the election of a gay-affirming president, the conservative group Alliance for Marriage Foundation (AMF) launched its defense in December.

At the AMF sponsored website www.ProtectDOMA.org the group touts the benefits of the law that forbids any federal agency from recognizing legal gay marriage. DOMA also allows states to ignore legal gay marriages performed in another state.

And social conservatives quickly reacted to the news of the new lawsuit.

“[I]t is increasingly clear that DOMA is in the cross hairs of groups like Gay & Lesbian Advocates and Defenders (GLAD), the plaintiffs, but also of President Obama who repeatedly has stated his support for DOMA's total repeal,” Family Research Council (FRC) President Tony Perkins said in a statement.

“We even wonder if his Department of Justice will rigorously defend this federal law in this litigation.”

“We advise the Obama Administration to fulfill its constitutional duties and defend DOMA energetically and competently. We also urge any federal courts that hear this case to dismiss it and preserve the right of the people to decide such important public policy decisions,” Perkins continued.

GLAD, the Boston-based gay rights advocacy group at the center of the gay marriage debate in New England, filed the lawsuit in federal court on behalf of eight gay couples and three surviving spouses who married in Massachusetts and say they have been denied benefits because the federal government does not recognize their marriage. Including Dean Hara, the widower of former U.S. Rep. Gerry Studds, the first openly gay member of Congress, who was denied the Congressman's pension and other benefits extended to surviving spouses.

In 2003, GLAD successfully sued Massachusetts to become the first state to offer gay marriage. It duplicated that success last year in Connecticut. Only Massachusetts and Connecticut offer full marriage to gay and lesbian couples. Several other states, including New York, Vermont and New Jersey, are considering extending marriage to gay couples.

Mary Bonauto, chief litigator at GLAD, said the suit would focus narrowly on several key provisions of DOMA: Social Security, federal income tax, federal employees and retirees, and the issuance of passports. And said she believes the suit will likely reach the Supreme Court.

Today, Massachusetts Senator John Kerry said he supported the effort.

“The courts have always been the last resort for those seeking justice under the law, and I'm proud that GLAD has taken action to right a wrong that passed the Senate over the objections of both of Massachusetts' senators,” Kerry, a Democrat, said in a statement.

Kerry called DOMA “unconstitutional” and “has absolutely nothing to do with defending marriage.”

Which was exactly what Perkins argued: “DOMA is necessary, as is a Federal Marriage Amendment, to ensure a solid future for traditional marriage in this country and the well-being of our children.”