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Are the federal courts firmly aligned on gay marriage?

Here's the quick and definitive answer to the above-posed headline question: Most emphatically, they are not.

In fact, it is a variance in ruling outcomes issued by federal court judges on the constitutionality of state gay-marriage bans that has enticed -- some commentators might say forced -- the United States Supreme Court to enter the fray and bring finality to the matter.

Here's a quick snapshot of the judicial landscape regarding gay marriage across the country. Appellate court judges from several circuits have recently overturned state bans on same-sex marriage, which has led to a number of states rapidly joining a growing coalition of peers that now legally recognize gay unions.

Signals from the nation's highest court indicate that a majority of justices also favor the expansion of rights for gay couples. In a case from 2013, the Supreme Court struck down federal legislation that did not provide the same benefits to gay spouses that were available for heterosexual married partners. And late last year, the court did not intervene in multiple lower-court decisions striking down state bans. That acquiescence led to new legislation sanctioning gay marriage in a number of states.

In fact, 36 states are now on board with gay marriage.

Arkansas is not one of them. As noted by an online primer on states' laws regarding gay marriage, the current status of same-sex marriage in Arkansas is roiled with complexity. A federal ruling currently challenges the state ban on gay unions, but it has been stayed pending appeal.

And now the heavy presence of the Supreme Court will be felt, with justices having agreed recently to hear an appellate case and issue a ruling later this year.

A high-court ruling has been long anticipated and called for, by both advocates and foes of same-sex marriage.

The Obama administration will file a brief in the case supporting gay-marriage rights. Attorney General Eric Holder recently stated that the country must take a "critical step forward to ensure the fundamental equality of all Americans."

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