A federal court in Boston has put a hold on its July ruling that struck down portions of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) as unconstitutional.

U.S. District Judge Joseph Tauro suspended his ruling Wednesday for 60 days while the U.S. Department of Justice decides whether it will appeal.

The 1996 law signed by President Bill Clinton defines marriage as a heterosexual union for federal agencies and allows states to ignore the legal marriages of gay couples performed outside their borders.

Tauro's decision only considers the law's definition of marriage, which prohibits married gay and lesbian couples from accessing federal benefits. He ruled the law violates the Fourteenth Amendment's equal protection guarantee.

Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD), the Boston-based legal group behind the challenge, said it did not oppose the government's request for a stay.

“We agreed to a stay for two reasons,” Mary L. Bonauto, director of GLAD's Civil Rights Project, said. “First and foremost, it is in our clients' best interest. They want the certainty of knowing that their Social Security payments, health insurance costs or tax refunds are not potentially subject to repayment to the government.”

“Second, we think the stay actually provides clarity for married couples around the country who are looking at their own situations and wondering whether the Gill decision allows them to apply for Social Security benefits, for example, or sponsor their spouse for citizenship. The answer, even without a stay in Gill, is: not yet.”

Gay marriage foes have previously suggested the government threw the case.

Only an incompetent defense could have lost this case,” Maggie Gallagher, chairwoman of the National Organization for Marriage (NOM), the country's most vociferous opponent of gay marriage, said.

While acknowledging that President Barack Obama's administration disagrees with DOMA, the Department of Justice has said it is duty-bound to defend the nation's laws.

Tauro's ruling only affects the state of Massachusetts, but should the government appeal to a higher court with a broader jurisdiction its impact could spread.