Federal officials have canceled the deportation of a Venezuelan man who married his American partner in Connecticut, signaling the government's willingness to recognize a crucial federal benefit for same-sex couples.

While New York's recent legalization of same sex marriage represents a triumph for the gay rights movement, the Defense of Marriage Act still denies married same sex couples federal recognitions, including Medicaid and Social Security benefits and legal residency for immigrants who marry citizens. But government officials Thursday told Henry Velandia, a Venezuelan immigrant who was facing deportation despite having married an American citizen, that his case was not an enforcement priority.

I can start breathing now after so many months of fighting, Velandia told The New York Times. I was holding my breath for fear of being sent away at any moment.

President Barack Obama signaled his opposition to the Defense of Marriage Act when he instructed the U.S. Justice Department to stop defending the law in court. Obama has not explicitly backed same sex marriage -- at a press conference on Wednesday he responded to a reporter's question about the New York law by acknowledging a profound recognition on the part of the American people that gays and lesbians and transgender persons should be treated like every other American, but when pressed on whether that meant he supported same sex marriage, he said I'm not going to make news on that today. Good try though.

But the decision to drop Velandia's case represents a quiet effort to diminish the law's effect on gay couples. It mirrors a move by the administration to redirect immigration enforcement away from immigrants who have no criminal record and who fit a number of critera, including having emigrated as young children, pursued a college degree, and established ties and contributions to the community, including family relationships.