If it is clear from the context that we are referring to USA, we might simply say

Many states have deserts/laws against gay marriage/more men than women.

But if it is not clear, and I prefer not to say something awkward like "Many states in the United States", can I say instead:

Many of the United States have deserts/laws against gay marriage/more men than women.

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    No, you can't, because the United States is an established "collective" term used to reference the nation as a single country. It would be much the same problem if you said Some of the British Isles are uninhabited. Such "multi-part" names behave as a unit - you can't just reference one word within the unit and treat it as a single entity. – FumbleFingers Oct 5 '13 at 16:05
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    But then again there might be a risk of confusion. "Many American states" might mean states in the US, but it might also mean nation-states in the Americas. – Kenny LJ Oct 5 '13 at 16:21
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    @ Kenny LJ: There are apparently over 20 million books in the Google Books corpus. But frankly I'd be surprised if you could find a single instance of many American states from the past century where it didn't refer to states within the USA. – FumbleFingers Oct 5 '13 at 16:27
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    @FumbleFingers: The Organization of American States might beg to differ. – Nate Eldredge Oct 5 '13 at 18:00
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    @FumbleFingers: I would tend to prefer "many U.S. states", which is unambiguous. According to this ngram, this has been the majority opinion for about the last 15 years. – Nate Eldredge Oct 5 '13 at 18:08

I am not sure whether many of the United States would actually be incorrect, but it would certainly be unusual, and I expect it would take your readers a moment or two to figure out what you meant.

I would suggest many U.S. states instead.

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  • Yes - it masks the awkward repetition well. – Edwin Ashworth Oct 5 '13 at 18:30

I would suggest using many states within the USA.

[Coincidentally, just before reading this question, I had had to address the same question elsewhere, and that is the expression I used.]

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