US president Barack Obama has expanded benefits for the partners of gay federal employees.

The move includes access to medical treatment, relocation assistance, child-care services and fitness centres.

These new rights build on those granted by the administration last June.

However, the Defence of Marriage Act means gay partners of federal employees will still be barred from accessing health insurance and retirement plans.

In a statement, Mr Obama said the law meant he could not fully equalise benefits and called on Congress to pass new legislation.

He added that he was directing government agencies to find more ways in which benefits for straight and gay couples could be equalised.

Human Rights Watch welcomed the changes but said they were proof that the Defence of Marriage Act must be repealed.

The group’s president Joe Solmonese said: “All employees should be treated equally and without discrimination, whether they are straight or LGBT and this is certainly a positive step in that direction.

“The limitations of these new benefits however serve as a glaring reminder that the Defence of Marriage Act ultimately stands in the way of providing true equality to LGBT Americans.”

The new benefits will not apply to partners of members of the armed forces as this would require servicemembers to out themselves, thereby breaking the law.