Religious groups have been quick to speak out after President Barack Obama announced Wednesday that he will no longer defend the Defense of Marriage Act, which prohibits the federal government from recognizing gay unions, and which he calls unconstitutional.

Almost immediately Bishop Thomas Tobin, the bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Providence, R.I., called Obama's decision "incomprehensible and misguided," and vowed the church would do all it can to protest an upcoming Rhode Island bill that aims to legalize same-sex marriage.

The Jewish community was divided on the president's announcement, with the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, based in Washington D.C., calling the move "as welcome as it is overdue," and adding that both gay and straight couples who love each other "deserve the opportunity to celebrate their relationships and have them recognized in the eyes of the law," according to Mark Pelavin, the RAC's associate director.

Yet, the Orthodox Agudath Israel of America organization voiced its to the decision and noted that they had "been among the groups in the forefront of efforts to maintain the traditional definition of marriage in law and society."

Beyond mere frustration at Obama's decision, the leader of the National Black Church Initiative, which comprises 34,000 black churches, is asking members to "reassess their extraordinary support" for the black president.

Rev. Anthony Evans, who leads the initiative, called Obama's decision a "violation" of the Christian faith.

A similar sentiment was expressed by the Catholics for the Common Good chairman William B. May, who pointed out that such a decision must mean the administration has adopted a "new, false definition of marriage that is needed to accommodate same-sex couples," he said. "In doing so, the administration is ignoring the public interest in marriage -- marriage as integral to the common good of the society, and the common interest that every child has in the marriage of his or her mother and father."

sisraelsen@desnews.com