The US State Department has stated that same-sex married couples can use their married names in their passports.

The change comes in response to an amendment to the Code of Federal Regulations in February 2008.

The State Department’s announcement will allow same-sex couples to get passports using the state-recognised married names they obtained in a civil union ceremony.

Critics of this move have argued that it undermines the Defence of Marriage Act, which prohibits federal recognition of any same-sex partnerships.

“It’s an exercise that the current administration is using to try to nibble away at the Defence of Marriage Act,” Kris Mineau, president of the Massachusetts Family Institute told Associated Press.

“There’s no doubt that President Obama has made a strong commitment to repeal the DOMA … and it will take an act of Congress to do so,” Mineau said. “He cannot circumvent the law, but he attempts to do so not head-on, but in an oblique approach.”

However, for gay couples travelling abroad the news is extremely welcome. Keith Toney, a gay man from Massachusetts, said that on previous trips to Costa Rica he had felt “degraded” by questions about the name on his passport, and that showing a passport in his unmarried name seemed “fraudulent”.

In a separate move, Secretary of State Hilary Clinton has started proceedings to allow domestic partners to hold diplomatic passports, to give gay couples government-paid travel to and from foreign posts, the use of US medical facilities abroad, eligibility for US government emergency evacuations, and training at the State Department’s Foreign Service Institute.

Obama signed a memorandum last week to extend federal benefits for partners to same-sex couples but critics have said the move will not be permanent, probably won’t include healthcare and will not be applied to those serving in the military.

In Britain, the Identity and Passport Service “will accept civil partnership certificates as documentary evidence of a change of name”, allowing same sex couples to use their married name in their passports.