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Supreme Court Order Leaves Some Same-Sex Couples 'in the Dark'

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The Supreme Court on Monday allowed gays and lesbians to wed in at least five more states, but advocates say their work isn't done because same-sex couples in some 20 states are still living under gay marriage bans that deny them many benefits.

The high court’s order applies to Utah, Oklahoma, Wisconsin, Indiana and Virginia — where the challenges initiated. The order will likely expand to six other states in the area covered by the three circuit courts that had previously ruled in favor of same-sex marriage, bringing to 30 the number of states that allow gay nuptials (D.C. does, too). That means gay couples in 20 states will feel no direct impact from the court’s action.

“The ruling today means we’ll be left in the dark for who knows how many decades. Mississippi will be last and they will go kicking and screaming when they do,” said Charlene Smith-Smathers, a 63-year-old Mississippi state employee whose wife Dee, 73, is facing serious health troubles. “Dee is probably not going to live long enough to see it and that’s really depressing.”

The high court had been expected to take up one of the gay marriage challenges pending before it due to the decisions made by the lower courts this year on the issue. More than 80 cases had been filed challenging the state marriage bans since the Supreme Court ruled last year in favor of a lesbian widow who had been denied inheritance rights under a federal law barring recognition of same-sex marriages.

With the court’s order on Monday, more couples will be able to access state marital benefits, such as filing joint taxes or adopting children. But families outside the area of the court order won't, and like the Smith-Smathers, they “literally cannot wait another day,” said Evan Wolfson, president of Freedom to Marry, a pro-gay marriage group.

“They continue to experience real hardship and discrimination that makes a life and death difference in many cases, and the gap between what those families have and where the majority of the country is headed makes it clear that we need to finish the job nationwide,” he said.

Movement Advancement Project, a pro-gay marriage think tank, last week released a report showing that some LGBT individuals and couples suffered financial hardship — even poverty — due to anti-gay laws like same-sex marriage bans. Despite the high court’s action, gay couples nationwide will still have to navigate the patchwork of state laws allowing or banning same-sex nuptials.

"This is the day that the proponents of same-sex marriage won.”

And, couples living in the 20 states unaffected by the high court order on Monday will be “stuck waiting,” said Naomi Goldberg, a policy specialist at MAP.

“In many ways their lives haven’t changed and won’t change other than watching the rest of the country receive protections that they won’t be able to receive,” she said.

But legal scholars said couples in those states should take hope from the action by the Supreme Court, which was willing to allow gay marriage to proceed in many more states.

“This is over. This is the day that the proponents of same-sex marriage won,” said Andrew Koppelman, a professor of law and political science at Northwestern University and author of “Same Sex, Different States: When Same-Sex Marriages Cross State Lines.”

It may yet be some time before gay nuptials are happening across the country, but the high court’s action will have an impact nationwide by putting pressure on those states with same-sex marriage bans to re-think their prohibitions, or to at least begin recognizing out-of-state gay nuptials.

“For a state to say we’re not going to recognize what a majority of the states in the union are allowing is for a little state to wall itself off like it was an independent country,” said John Pagan, a professor of constitutional law at the University of Richmond. “What happened today was gay marriage moved from a minority position into a majority position in the United States.”

It was still hard for some gay couples outside of the high court order's reach to accept that they’ll have to wait.

“I’m extremely upset by it. It’s really depressing,” said Charlene’s wife, Dee Smith-Smathers. “I don’t know why we didn’t have a case in there. When we say we are dealing with end-of-life issues, we really are. If this goes on two or three years, I may not make it. It’s just extremely upsetting.”

IN-DEPTH

Are you part of a LGBT couple living in a state that doesn't recognize same-sex marriage? Or are you in a state that is recognizing same-sex marriage because of the Supreme Court order and making plans to wed? Share your story with the reporter: miranda.leitsinger@nbcuni.com

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