The Obama administration has cushioned its latest defense of a federal gay marriage ban with a sympathetic statement that calls the 1996 law unfair.

The administration's first defense of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the law that allows states to ignore legal gay marriage and defines marriage as a heterosexual union for the federal government, drew widespread anger from gay leaders and activists when it was filed in June.

“This Administration does not support DOMA as a matter of policy, believes that it is discriminatory, and supports its repeal,” the new brief from Justice Department lawyer Scott Simpson says.

The administration, however, goes on to say DOMA is constitutional and “reasonable arguments” can be made in its defense.

“Consistent with the rule of law, however, the Department of Justice has long followed the practice of defending federal statutes as long as reasonable arguments can be made in support of their constitutionality, even if the Department disagrees with a particular statute as a policy matter, as it does here.”

While it argues in support of DOMA, it does reject the argument that Congress was justified in defining marriage as a heterosexual union because it promotes the government's interest in “responsible procreation.”

The administration's defense comes in a brief against a gay couple who have sued the federal government in California, claiming the law is unconstitutional.

Candidate Obama called DOMA “abhorrent” and promised the gay and lesbian community he would work to repeal it. The new line from the Justice Department more closely aligns with what Obama has said.

The brief's defense of DOMA as constitutional is an important fact, analysts say. An administration will generally not defend a law it considers unconstitutional. While Obama's sympathetic statement is a nod to the gay community, it is far from a repudiation of the law.