The White House announced late Wednesday that President Barack Obama had signed an executive order extending benefits for partners of gay federal workers.

“I am proud to announce that earlier today, I signed a Memorandum that requires Executive agencies to take immediate action to extend to the same-sex domestic partners of Federal employees a number of meaningful benefits, from family assistance services to hardship transfers to relocation expenses,” Obama said in a statement.

The Human Rights Campaign, the nation's largest gay rights advocate, said the move was a “positive step,” but added that it also serves as a reminder of the inequality that exits.

“All employees should be treated equally and without discrimination, whether they are straight or LGBT [Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual or Transgender] and this is certainly a positive step in that direction,” Joe Solmonese, president of the group, said.

The new order goes beyond what the president ordered last June, but isn't likely to mollify gay activists because the partners of gay and lesbian federal employees remain blocked from access to primary health insurance and pension benefits.

Full benefits cannot be extended to gay federal employees because of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the 1996 law that defines marriage as a heterosexual union for the federal government. A bill introduced by New York Congressman Jerrold Nadler that would repeal the law has gained little traction.

“The limitations of these new benefits however serve as a glaring reminder that the Defense of Marriage Act [DOMA] ultimately stands in the way of providing true equality to LGBT Americans,” Solmonese said.

Both houses of Congress, however, are preparing to vote on a bill that would bridge the gap. Openly lesbian Wisconsin Representative Tammy Baldwin's Domestic Partnership Benefits & Obligations Act (DPBO) would carve out an exception to the law. The legislation cleared key committees in both houses of congress late last year.

In announcing the new benefits, Obama reiterated his support for DPBO: “This legislation, championed by Senators Joe Lieberman and Susan Collins and Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin, would extend to the same-sex domestic partners of Federal employees the full range of benefits currently being enjoyed by Federal employees' opposite-sex spouses. I look forward to signing it into law.”

Solmonese cheered the president's renewed call for passage of the bill, adding that the federal government needed to catch up to a majority of Fortune 500 companies which already offer such benefits.