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The Human Rights Campaign, Lambda Legal, the ACLU and other gay rights groups issued a statement that said they were “very surprised and deeply disappointed” in the filing, and they unflatteringly compared it to actions taken by the former Bush Administration.

Obama officials say gay rights groups are remiss to interpret the brief as a blow to their efforts and that the president is obligated to uphold current law.

Office of Personnel Management Director John Berry, the highest-ranking openly-gay official in the Obama Administration, told the Advocate, a gay publication, that activists need to channel their anger away from the president and toward Capitol Hill.

“He’s doing his job,” Mr. Berry said. “He has made clear that he stands for the repeal of DOMA. It will be part of this administration’s agenda to accomplish that act. We ought not waste energy and angst attacking him when we should be focusing the energy and effort on getting 218 votes in the House and 60 votes in the Senate. …That’s where we ought to target the energy and the strength of this community, and this president is with us; this is our agenda, and it’s his agenda.”

• Amanda Carpenter can be reached at acarpenter@