Domestic partners and dependents of gay, lesbian and unmarried city workers can now receive health benefits from the city - at least as long as Mayor Thomas M. Menino is in office.

Menino signed an executive order Tuesday extending the benefits to homosexual and unmarried heterosexual partners, and put Boston among several dozen cities and towns nationwide that provide similar benefits.He sidestepped a veto promised by acting Gov. Paul Cellucci, but executive orders are good only while the mayor remains in office.

"As mayor of Boston, I'm making the choice to do the right thing," Menino said.

In Massachusetts, Cambridge, Springfield, Amherst and Northampton already have domestic partners benefits for municipal employees.

A proposal to require domestic partner benefits for all state employees has died in the Legislature several years in a row.

A few hours after Menino signed his order, Cellucci kept a promise he made last week to veto the city's petition, passed by the state House and Senate, to extend the coverage.

Cellucci, who has said he would have signed a benefits bill for same-sex partners, targeted unmarried heterosexuals. He argued that children who grow up without a father at home are more likely to end up in poverty, in jail, or pregnant.

Proponents of the legislation said a benefit only for gay couples - and not for unmarried heterosexuals - could be considered discriminatory.