The ink of President Obama’s signature on the Affordable Care Act had barely dried before massive opposition to the bill began to mobilize in 2010. The rallies, marches and protests were soon followed by a joint lawsuit filed against the new law by 26 states’ attorneys general that made its way to the Supreme Court. When the dust had settled and both sides rested their cases, the word coming from commentators out of Washington was that the bill would likely be struck down.
Yet on June 28, the high court surprised more than a few with its landmark decision to uphold the ACA. The 30-something million Americans who were promised access to health care could breathe a big sigh of relief, knowing they will no longer face bankruptcy for getting ill. The decision was especially important for the gay community, where many lack insurance. But the green light from the Supremes still highlights the glaring inequality in our society.
Thanks to the conservative nature of the current health care system in America, most people get insurance through full-time employment or their spouse. Yet most states don’t recognize same-sex marriage and the legal benefits that come along with the institution. Thus many gays in committed, long-term relationships have no coverage and are left to fend for themselves.
The ACA will change all of that by pooling everyone into the health care market and bringing down rates for those who need care the most. It allows anyone to purchase insurance with subsidies in exchanges set up by the states. When it comes into full effect in 2014, all of the gays and lesbians who fell through the system’s cracks won’t need to pay exorbitant rates on the private market.
It’s a major victory, there’s no doubt about that. It is especially important for those living with HIV/AIDS who were previously excluded from care. But reading through the lines, this win shows how unequal things still are in America. The fact that marriage — a legal, civil institution — carries so much weight in day-to-day life underscores our need to continue fighting for it.
Just because the need for affordable insurance has been alleviated doesn’t mean that marriage equality is no longer an issue. Health care is only one piece of the bigger picture in the argument for same-sex marriage. Conservative groups will surely cite the ACA as a reason gays don’t need the right to marry that everyone else is entitled to.
House Speaker John Boehner, speaking not long after the court’s ruling, said he will continue to battle the law in Congress, and Mitt Romney vows he will work hard to repeal it if elected president. It’s unfortunate that the GOP is fighting tooth and nail to deny tens of millions of their fellow Americans health insurance, but it’s only one more reason that their agenda is complete nonsense.
The president’s team may have won the battle, but the war isn’t over. Gay groups must continue to push for equality, both for access to care and the right to marry. The GOP won’t give up that easily, but minds and hearts have started to change. If gays are not allowed to legally enjoy the same rights that everyone else in society, a back-door fix like the ACA is great for the time being. The end goal, though, is still the same.