The Obama administration announced Tuesday that it will support a congressional effort to repeal a federal law that defines marriage as a legal union between a man and woman.

White House spokesman Jay Carney denounced the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), saying the administration will back a bill introduced this year by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) to remove the law from the books.

Feinstein’s bill, called the Respect for Marriage Act, would “uphold the principle that the federal government should not deny gay and lesbian couples” the same rights as others, according to Carney.

The Senate is scheduled to hold an initial hearing on Feinstein’s proposal on Wednesday.

“The policy was wrong then and it is wrong today, and I believe it should be repealed,” Feinstein said Tuesday morning during remarks at the National Press Club.

Obama’s decision came five months after his administration instructed U.S. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. to stop defending DOMA and represents a continuing evolution in Obama’s views on same-sex marriage. In February, Holder said parts of DOMA were unconstitutional because of “classifications based on sexual orientation.”

The issue has become politically dicey for Obama as he and his Republican rivals ramp up for the 2012 campaign season. The president was booed last month during an appearance in New York, when he told a gay audience that “traditionally, marriage has been decided by the states.” Forty-one states currently ban same-sex marriage.

Opponents of gay marriage have decried the Justice Department’s refusal to defend the law as an unjustified political move.

Daniel Blomberg, an attorney for the conservative Alliance Defense Fund, denounced the administration’s decision.  

“Our perspective is that it’s not only incorrect, but deeply disappointing, to have a politician claim support for marriage between one man and one woman on the campaign trail, then actively undermine that once in office,” said Blomberg, whose organization will testify in support of DOMA during Wednesday’s Senate hearing. “We are confident Congress will make the right decision here.”

Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese hailed Obama’s decision to back the congressional push.

“We thank the President for his support of the Respect of Marriage Act,” Solmonese said in a statement. “By supporting this legislation, the President continues to demonstrate his commitment to ending federal discrimination against tens of thousands of lawfully married same-sex couples.”

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