Three years ago, when Scott Hamilton moved from New York to Oklahoma for work, his marriage, and all the rights that went with it, dissolved in the transition.
That's because Oklahoma -- a deeply conservative place -- is one of 38 states that bans marriages between same-sex couples.
To make the move, Hamilton, 52, and his husband, Wayne Johnson, 59, who got married in Connecticut in 2009 and have been together since 1991, had to come to grips with the fact their relationship would no longer matter under the eyes of the law. They had to redo their wills and create new trusts to ensure their assets would be passed smoothly if one of them were to die.
If they were put into long-term care in Oklahoma, he said, the men would have to occupy separate rooms. They must file their taxes separately. And it's almost impossible for them to use the word "husband" without comment.
"Well, who are you? Are you his driver?" a nurse recently asked Hamilton when he was pushing Johnson through a hospital in a wheelchair, as he related it to me.
"No, I'm his husband."
"Oh, good God," she said, dismissively.
Oh-good-God is right.
How does it make sense that a couple's love for each other would be recognized by one state and mocked in another? For lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, the United States has turned into a complicated mess of 50 Americas -- most of which discriminate against them.
For what other group -- with the possible exception of pregnant women seeking abortions -- are state borders so important? If you're Jewish or tall or Christian or black or fat or old or poor or sad ... your fundamental rights as a human don't change if you drive from the panhandle of Idaho, where same-sex marriage is banned, into Washington state, where it's legal, or from the yellow plains of West Texas, where employees can be fired because of their sexual orientation, to New Mexico, where LGBT workers are protected from institutionalized bigotry.
It makes sense speed limits and marijuana laws would differ.
But not basic rights to dignity and inclusion.
America deals with a host of issues that affect LGBT people -- not just same-sex marriage -- in this sloppy, checkerboard fashion. You can explore some of them with CNN's handy new "LGBT rights calculator." The point, to me, is that this patchwork of laws makes no coherent sense.
Some states allow same-sex couples to adopt.
Others, such as Mississippi, ban it. That leaves couples such as Sara and L.B. Bell -- whom I met on a recent trip to Mississippi, a state that, according to my calculations, ties for having the fewest protections for LGBT people -- to fear that if and when they have a child, it may be difficult for both to maintain custody.
Some states protect LGBT tenants from being evicted because of who they are.
Others, such as Louisiana and Montana, don't seem to think that matters.
Some states let teachers talk about homosexuality in schools -- a healthy step toward ensuring future generations continue to be more accepting of all people.
Others, such as Alabama, require teachers to mention "in a factual manner and from a public health perspective, that homosexuality is not a lifestyle acceptable to the general public and that homosexual conduct is a criminal offense under the laws of the state." Never mind that homosexuality is not a crime, as the U.S. Supreme Court held in Lawrence v. Texas in 2003. And that about half the nation is cool with same-sex marriage these days, a percentage that only will grow with time.
Each state is so different we might as well put up signs on the borders.
Welcome to Oklahoma ... Oh, you're gay??? Please turn around. We can fire you for that here. ...
At least then the statutory inequalities would be visible.
It seems LGBT people have already taken notice.
A recent Gallup survey of 206,186 people found states with more accepting laws and cultures tend to have higher percentages of openly LGBT residents. Washington, D.C., for example, which allows same-sex marriage, has a 10% LGBT population. North Dakota, where laws and the culture ("Fargo" may have something to do with it, too) are less favorable, is only 1.7% openly LGBT.
That may be because LGBT people in conservative states are less likely to be open about who they are, particularly with a pollster, Gary Gates and Frank Newport write in an explanation of the survey on Gallup's website. "It is also possible that LGBT adults make conscious choices to reside in certain states rather than others," they said, "but this possibility is difficult to assess and seems less likely."