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Same-sex marriage comes to America's 'Brokeback' states

Marriage is coming to Brokeback Mountain. Because the U.S. Supreme Court has declined a review of federal appeals court rulings that have struck down same-sex-marriage prohibitions in five states, wedding bells will be ringing for gays and lesbians in some of the reddest of red states.

Up to this point, same-sex unions have been legalized only on the West Coast, Hawaii, the Northeast and parts of the upper Midwest. After Monday's Supreme Court action, though, those Democratic Party strongholds are being joined by five not-so-liberal states -- Utah, Oklahoma, Indiana, Virginia and Wisconsin. And other court decisions pending in Wyoming, Colorado, Kansas, West Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina are now expected to go against defenders of traditional, man-and-woman marriage.

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Soon, three-fifths of the states will have stepped into the new frontier of marriage equality, either through ballot initiatives, legislative action or court rulings. Once partners of the same gender start getting married in Oklahoma, can Texas, Alabama and Mississippi be far behind?

Well, yes, they can be. They will kick and scream and complain and resist, but it now appears inevitable that one day soon, same-sex marriage will be legal from sea to shining sea.

Though gay-rights partisans are happy about the big boost to their cause, some complain that the high court is evading the marriage issue. Rather than simply letting the lower court rulings stand, the justices could have ratified those decisions themselves and settled the marriage equality issue for the entire country. Why not just do it, critics of the court say, since the tipping point seems to have been reached with 30 states opening up to same-sex unions?

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, told an audience in Minneapolis on Tuesday that, if the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals upholds same-sex-marriage prohibitions in Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee, that would put the 6th Circuit at odds with the other appeals courts and she and her colleagues would be forced to step in. If the lower court lifts the bans in those states, however, Ginsberg said there would be "no need for us to rush."

Ginsberg is said to be convinced that, even on an issue in which she strongly believes -- she recently officiated at a friend's same-sex wedding -- there is virtue in taking time so that a national consensus can evolve. Such was not the case when the court legalized abortion, and the debate over that issue still rages. If marriage equality arrives state by state, rather than by a ruling from the politically divided Supreme Court, Ginsberg reasons it will be better for the country.

Gay and lesbian couples living in laggard states who are forced to wait a few more years before they tie the knot may not agree with Ginsberg's reasoning, but I am swayed. A little more patience can buy acceptance -- and permanence.

In the meantime, think of the hope all these changes would have brought to the two doomed and love-struck Wyoming cowboys in "Brokeback Mountain." America has come a long way very quickly on gay rights, and it is bringing the United States closer to its founding ideals. As cowboy tunesmith Garth Brooks sings, "When we're free to love anyone we choose ... we shall be free."

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