President Barack Obama vowed to work with lawmakers "this year" to abolish the law that bans gays from serving openly in the US military.
As a candidate, Obama promised to scrap the policy that requires gays to keep quiet about their sexual orientation or face expulsion but has moved cautiously since taking office a year ago.
"This year, I will work with Congress and our military to finally repeal the law that denies gay Americans the right to serve the country they love because of who they are," Obama said in his debut State of the Union address.
Obama devoted one sentence in his speech to the issue in a passage devoted to US ideals of tolerance and his administration's efforts to bolster civil rights protections.
He said the country was founded on "the notion that we are created equal, that no matter who you are or what you look like, if you abide by the law you should be protected by it; that if you adhere to our common values you should be treated no different than anyone else."
In an October speech to gay and lesbian activists, Obama promised to repeal the ban -- known as "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" -- and appealed for patience.
An activist group opposed to the ban welcomed the president's promise.
"We very much need a sense of urgency to get this done in 2010," said a statement Wednesday from the Service Members Legal Defense Network, which called for "more attention and leadership" on the issue.
The group urged Obama to try to scrap the law in his proposed defense budget due to be unveiled next week.
"We call on the president to repeal the archaic 1993 law in his defense budget currently now being drafted, that is probably the only and best moving bill where DADT (Don't Ask, Don't Tell) can be killed this year," it said.
About 13,000 US service members have been discharged under the policy since then, and estimated costs through 2003 run at 95.4 million dollars in recruiting costs and 95.1 million in training replacements, according to the US Government Accountability Office.
Polls show an overwhelming number of Americans support allowing openly gay men and lesbians to serve in the US military.
Obama has extended partial federal benefits to same-sex partners of US government workers but he is under pressure from activists to deliver on his campaign promise on ending the military ban.
Democratic Senator Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said on Monday that he planned to hold hearings on the issue next month.
Levin, who favors repealing the ban, said he had urged Defense Secretary Robert Gates to undertake "opinion samplings" inside the military to gauge the reaction to a possible change in the policy.
Opponents of changing the rule have warned it could threaten "unit cohesion" in the all-volunteer force and damage morale among troops.