ANOTHER STEP FORWARD ON GAY RIGHTS…. Step by step, the Obama administration’s record on advances in gay rights keeps improving.

President Obama on Wednesday extended a modest package of benefits to the same-sex partners of federal employees, a move that will make them eligible for day care, travel and relocation allowances, employee assistance programs and, in some cases, enable them to inherit retirement benefits.

But Mr. Obama lamented that federal law — the Defense of Marriage Act — prevents him from extending the full range of health and retirement benefits to federal employees. He called on Congress to pass legislation that would allow him to do so.

The announcement, timed to coincide with Mr. Obama’s designation of June as Lesbian, Gay, Transgender and Bisexual Pride Month, builds on a memorandum he issued last June, when he directed federal agencies to study ways to deliver more benefits to domestic partners of their employees. Gay rights advocates said it was a meaningful, if incremental, step.

This follows legislative progress on repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” hospital visitation rights, a package of domestic partnership benefits for federal workers, lifting the travel/immigration ban on those with HIV/AIDS, expanded hate-crime laws, addressing the diplomatic passport issue, hosting a White House event to honor the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall riots, and endorsing the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act and making the Domestic Partners Benefit and Obligations Act law.

For religious right groups hoping to label Obama our “first gay president,” the criticism will likely get more intense.

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Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.