Obama to headline gay rights dinner

By JULIE PACE | October 1, 2011 | 4:35 AM EDT

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama is headlining the Human Rights Campaign's annual dinner Saturday night, addressing the gay rights group less than two weeks after the military ended its ban on openly gay service members, an effort Obama championed.

But the president is not expected to use his speech 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 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.

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 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.