Gay marriage foes unhappy about Thursday's ruling calling gay marriage ban DOMA unconstitutional are suggesting the government threw the case.

US District Court Judge Joseph L. Tauro ruled yesterday in two cases against the federal government's Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). The 1996 law signed by President Bill Clinton defines marriage as a heterosexual union for federal agencies and allows states to ignore the legal marriages of gay couples performed outside their borders.

Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley argued that the law was forcing her state to discriminate against couples who were legally married in Massachusetts.

The law “plainly encroaches” on a state's right to define marriage, Tauro wrote.

Coakley called the ruling “an important step” to achieving equality.

In the second case, Gill v. Office of Personnel Management, being litigated by the Boston-based gay rights group Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD), Tauro said DOMA violates the Fourteenth Amendment's equal protection guarantee.

Representing seven married gay couples and three surviving spouses from Massachusetts who have been denied federal benefits because of DOMA, attorney Mary L. Bonauto argued that the law is an unconstitutional intrusion on a matter previously left to the states.

The lawsuits only challenge the portion of DOMA that denies legally married gay couples access to federal benefits.

Gay marriage foes suggested the government threw the case.

“Under the guidance of Elena Kagan's brief that she filed when she was Solicitor General, Obama's Justice Department deliberately sabotaged this case,” Brian Brown, president of Nation for Marriage (NOM), the country's most vociferous opponent of gay marriage, charged in a statement.

In asking Tauro to dismiss the cases, the Justice Department had said the administration disagrees with the policy.

“This presidential administration disagrees with DOMA as a matter of policy,” W. Scott Simpson, a DOJ lawyer argued in Gill v. Office of Personnel Management. “But that does not affect its constitutionality.”

Kris Mineau, president of the Massachusetts Family Institute, a group that opposes gay marriage, agreed.

“There's no doubt that the defense was half-hearted,” Mineau said. “In each case their opening argument was that they were against the [ban] and called for its appeal, however, it was constitutional.”

“Only an incompetent defense could have lost this case,” Maggie Gallagher, chairwoman of NOM, added.

The rulings only affect the state of Massachusetts, but should the government appeal to a higher court with a broader jurisdiction their impact could spread.

The Department of Justice has yet to announce whether it will appeal.

Another federal-level ruling on the issue is expected shortly in California, where gay activists are challenging the constitutionality of the state's gay marriage ban, Proposition 8.