Massachusetts Senator John Kerry has applauded President Barack Obama's decision to no longer defend the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in court.

Facing a March 11 deadline to respond to two legal challenges to the 1996 law that bans federal agencies from recognizing the legal marriages of gay and lesbian couples, Obama on Wednesday directed the Department of Justice to end its defense of the law.

“DOMA was unconstitutional in 1996, and it's unconstitutional today, and the Obama Administration made the right call to no longer defend it in the courts,” Kerry said in a statement.

“The Defense of Marriage Act has never been about defending marriage. It's been nothing more than an unconstitutional effort to deny same-sex couples basic rights and protections,” he added.

Both of the cases challenging DOMA were filed in Kerry's home state of Massachusetts, the first state to legalize gay marriage in 2005.

House Speaker John Boehner, a Republican from Ohio, on the other hand, called the decision bad timing.

“While Americans want Washington to focus on creating jobs and cutting spending the president will have to explain why he thinks now is the appropriate time to stir up a controversial issue that sharply divides the nation,” said Boehner Spokesman Michael Steel.