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updated 10/1/2011 10:53:06 AM ET 2011-10-01T14:53:06

President Barack Obama is headlining the annual dinner of a leading gay rights group Saturday night, less than two weeks after the military ended its ban on openly gay service members.

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But the president is not expected to use his speech at the dinner of the Human Rights Campaign to announce any change to his self-proclaimed "evolving" position on gay marriage. Obama has said that for now, he supports civil unions but not same-sex marriage, a sore point with some gay supporters who say they're otherwise pleased with the president's handling of gay issues.

With the president increasingly focused on his 2012 campaign, some gay advocates believe Obama will wait until after the election to make any significant announcement on his position on gay marriage.

Fred Sainz, vice president of communications at the Human Rights Campaign, said he expects Obama to eventually come out in support of gay marriage. And he said the president's position on that one issue shouldn't diminish his work on other causes of the gay community, including the repeal of the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy banning gays from serving openly and his order that the Justice Department stop defending in court a law defining marriage as between a man and a woman.

"He really has been an incredible champion for the issues that are important to us," Sainz said. "It's fair to say we've made more progress in the past two years than we have in the past 40 years combined."

Even without Obama's backing, a handful of states have passed legislation legalizing gay marriage, most recently New York. And public sentiment is moving decisively in the direction of supporting gay marriage, with most polls showing people are now about evenly split or narrowly in favor.

Story: Military chaplains now allowed to perform same-sex marriages

Obama himself has recognized that reality, saying during a meeting with liberal bloggers last October that "it's pretty clear where the trend lines are going."

Joe Sudbay of AmericaBlog.com was among the bloggers Obama spoke with last year. He said that while most gay advocates won't stop supporting the president if he doesn't come out in favor of gay marriage before the election, doing so could give Obama's base much-needed energy.

"He might not lose votes, but he won't gain enthusiasm," Sudbay said.

Saturday marks the second time Obama has spoken at the Human Rights Campaign's annual dinner. He previously spoke at the event in 2009. His close friend and senior adviser Valerie Jarrett addressed the group last year.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ is history

  1. Closed captioning of: ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ is history

    >>> assembly. as the u.s. gets ready to get out of afghanistan. there is a big change to report tonight for the u.s. military . the policy known as don't ask don't tell is now officially history. our pentagon correspondent jim miklaszewski on duty with the story for us.

    >> this repeal of don't ask don't tell, which prohibited gays from openly serving in the u.s. military is nothing short of his toric. it's estimated that as many as 65,000 gays and lesbians actively serve in the u.s. military , including on the battlefields of iraq and afghanistan. but today for the first time ever they no longer have to live a lie. at the pentagon, mike mullen said for him, repeal of don't ask don't tell is all about integrity.

    >> it's fundamentally against everything we stand for as an institution, to force people to lie about who they are just to wear a uniform.

    >> reporter: in 1993 , the new president wanted to lift the bachb against gays in the military all together. but faced with stiff opposition from congress and the pentagon, he was forced to accept don't ask don't tell. the repeal marks an end to 18 years of official discrimination, and the beginning of a new era.

    >> when gay and lesbian service members can serve their country hon orably without constant fear of being kicked out of the military.

    >> i'm 31 years old, i'm a woman, i'm a united states marine , and i'm a lesbian.

    >> were you living a lie?

    >> absolutely. all of us. all of us were living a lie.

    >> jonathan mills was among many who fought back. he's been executive editor of an online magazine , working anonymously behind the scenes for repeal of don't ask don't tell.

    >> to be able to see something that has been so wrong. a policy that's ruined so many lives be overturned, i feel very proud of this. it's a moral accomplishment for our country.

    >> at the stroke of midnight, the policy was officially dead . gory ross openly married his partner in vermont. the military still cannot recognize the marriage. in fact, same sex partners will still be denied some benefits, like medical care and military housing, the fight goes on. but brian, this headline and the latest marine corps times says it all, we're gay, get over it.

    >> jim miklaszewski on this big day at the pentagon and elsewhere, jim, thank you for that.

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