A New York lawyer for the Justice Department was made by a federal appeals panel to explain the US government’s decision behind ceasing to defend the Defense of Marriage Act.

Stuart Delery, Acting Assistant Attorney General, was challenged by two of three judges on the panel, who were hearing arguments for the 2nd US Circuit Court of Appeals, reported CBS.

A ruling will not be made for several months, but this hearing represented a note being made of the goverment’s changed stance on the policy.

Mr Delery gave the explanation that President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder, changed the official instructions on the 1996 law, after the legal reasoning behind the law was reviewed.

DOMA means that the US government is not able to recognise same-sex marriages, specifically referring to cases where federal benefits are involved. The case is expected to be seen by the Supreme Court next year.

Rulings striking down the law had also been made by several other judges. In June, in a case seen by District Judge Barbara Jones, of Manhattan, she ruled that the state’s regulation of domestic relations were intruded upon by DOMA.

Judge Jones made her decision after the ACLU filed a petition, a writ of certiorari, on behalf of 83-year-old Edith Windsor, who was treated in law as if she and her late wife Thea Spyer were strangers.

Ms Windsor, speaking earlier this year, said of her 44-year relationship with Ms Spyer: “It’s thrilling to have a court finally recognise how unfair it is for the government to have treated us as though we were strangers.” The two had married in 2007, in Canada.

Edwin Meese III and John Ashcroft said it was unusual that the government should not defend a law, when the is no concern over the separation of powers:

“Historically, the president’s constitutional obligation to ‘take care that the laws be faithfully executed’ has been understood to include the vigorous defence of acts of Congress when they are challenged in court,” they said.

Last year, the Obama administration announced it would no longer defend the Defense of Marriage Act, although federal agencies continue to enforce the ban on federal benefits for married gay couples.