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Gay couples in red-state America consider bluer pastures

Kelly Wroblewski lives in Austin, Texas, with her partner of 10 years, Kristina Lestik. Both women are high school teachers in their early 30s, have pets and wear promise rings to show their commitment.

Austin has been a comfortable place for them to live. The city council endorsed marriage equality in 2012 and extended benefits to same-sex partners of city employees.

But that’s a far cry from the full federal rights, benefits and recognition that same-sex couples living in other states stand to gain if the Supreme Court strikes down the Defense of Marriage Act later this year.

Until now, same-sex couples, regardless of where they lived, lacked such federal recognition. If the court rules as many legal scholars predict, the decision could create a radical level of inequality among gay couples based exclusively on geography.

At the moment, same-sex marriage is legal in nine states and the District of Columbia. What worries many activists, is that the court will continue to leave the issue to states, making it hard to know when full rights could come to gay citizens who reside in conservative states.

“Getting out of Texas will be really hard,” said Wroblewski, noting her mother lives nearby. “But it just seems inevitable.”

The couple would like to be legally married but such talk leads to more talk of relocating to the Pacific Northwest where same sex marriage is legal in the state of Washington. Polling suggests that it will take another seven years before a majority of Texans could support marriage equality.

“We can’t stay here if we’re not allowed to have all the rights of married folks,” Lestik adds.

She isn’t alone. Many married and unmarried gay couples in the reddest of red states have championed legislative gains in recent years and eye the Court with hope. But they also increasingly feel the yawning rights gap and express skepticism of a state-by-state solution should a narrow Supreme Court ruling come down.

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