Gay and lesbian federal workers are now eligible for leave without pay to attend to their family's educational and medical needs, a benefit previously only available to heterosexual workers.

In a September 10 memo, John Berry, director of Office of Personnel Management (OPM), instructs federal agencies to extend 24 hours of leave without pay each year to gay workers with a domestic partner.

The benefit can be used to attend school functions; accompany children to medical and dental appointments; or care for an elderly partner.

President Obama last year extended fringe benefits to the partners of gay workers, who are now eligible for federal long term health care insurance and can take paid leave to care for an ill partner. But partners of federal gay workers remain blocked from access to primary health insurance and pension benefits.

Full benefits cannot be extended because of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which bars federal agencies from recognizing gay unions.

Legislation that would carve out an exception to the law, Wisconsin Representative Tammy Baldwin's Domestic Benefits & Obligations Act (DPBO), has stalled in the House and Senate, despite receiving the president's endorsement.