The United States Senate is expected to confirm an openly gay lawyer - David Huebner - will be its next ambassador to New Zealand.

The appointment has generated some publicity in the United States because it is the Obama administration's first appointment of an openly gay ambassador.

Mr Huebner is currently a lawyer based in Shanghai for a United States law firm where he specialises in international arbitration and mediation. He also acts as general counsel for the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation.

The United States embassy in New Zealand would not confirm the appointment, saying there was no announcement from the White House as yet.

However, the Washington Blade and AP reported the appointment was expected to be announced later today.

Mr Huebner will replace former restauranteur Bill McCormick, who returned to Washington in January. Since then, the post has been filled by Charge d'Affaires - David Keegan until August and currently Robert Clarke.

The USA ambassador for New Zealand is also traditionally the ambassador for Samoa and Mr Huebner will continue to fill that role.

Although former Presidents George Bush and Bill Clinton also appointed gay ambassadors in their time in office, American media have focussed on Mr Huebner as the new Barack Obama administration's first appointment of an openly gay ambassador at a time when he is facing criticism for being slow to act on gay-friendly policies.

President Obama is due to speak to a gay rights fundraising dinner and a gay rights activists march over the weekend.

However, he has been criticised for acting slowly on changing policies deemed discriminatory to gay people, such as the 'don't ask, don't tell' policy allowing gay and lesbians to serve in the military as long they do no disclose or act on their sexual orientation. He has also been accused of slow action on campaign pledges, such as repealing the Defence of Marriage Act.