Washington (CNN) -- President Barack Obama is now backing legislation that would allow federal recognition of same-sex marriages performed under state law -- a move long sought by proponents of equal rights for same-sex couples and part of the president's self-described "evolution" on the hotly contested issue.
The White House announced Tuesday that Obama supports the Respect for Marriage Act, legislation that would overturn the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act. The Clinton-era measure bars federal recognition of same-sex marriages and says states cannot be forced to recognize such marriages from other states.
The Respect for Marriage Act was recently introduced by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, and Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-New York.
The 1996 law "continues to have a real impact on the lives of real people -- our families, friends and neighbors," White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters. "The federal government should not deny gay and lesbian couples the same rights and legal protections as straight couples."
In February, Obama ordered the Justice Department to stop defending the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act.
Attorney General Eric Holder said at the time that Obama concluded "that given a number of factors, including a documented history of discrimination, classifications based on sexual orientation should be subject to a more heightened standard of scrutiny."
The nation is "moving toward greater equality (and) I think that's a good thing," Obama said in June. The president has said he remains personally opposed to the concept of same-sex marriage, though he has stressed that his views are evolving.
New York recently became the sixth state to legalize same-sex marriages; the measure is set to take effect later this month.
Currently, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont, New Hampshire, and the District of Columbia grant same-sex marriage licenses.