What Chris Christie’s gay marriage decision says about Obamacare

A Tea Party member reaches for a pamphlet titled "The Impact of Obamacare", at a "Food for Free Minds Tea Party Rally" in Littleton, New Hampshire in this October 27, 2012 file photo. (REUTERS/Jessica Rinaldi//Files) A Tea Party member reaches for a pamphlet titled "The Impact of Obamacare", at a "Food for Free Minds Tea Party Rally" in Littleton, New Hampshire in this October 27, 2012 file photo. (REUTERS/Jessica Rinaldi//Files)

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's (R) decision to reverse course Monday and not contest the right for same-sex couples to marry in his state didn't just represent a win for gay rights activists. It underscores why conservative Republicans are fighting so hard to delay the enrollment stage of the Affordable Care Act.

Once the government provides a benefit of any kind to its citizens, it is very hard to take away.

In a statement, the Christie suggested the New Jersey Supreme Court's unanimous decision Friday to allow same-sex marriages to go forward in the state made it clear how it would rule on the ultimate question of the constitutionality of gay marriage: "Chief Justice Rabner left no ambiguity about the unanimous court's view on the ultimate decision in this matter when he wrote, ‘same-sex couples who cannot marry are not treated equally under the law today.'"

But the court's decision to allow marriage licenses to be issued to gay and lesbian couples starting at midnight was just as important, because it raised the political bar for taking that right--and the benefits that flow along with it--away.

On Friday, Brian Brown, president of the National Organization for Marriage, questioned how the state would be able to switch direction if the final ruling concluded gay marriage was unconstitutional. The idea of allowing marriage licenses to be issued while the case is still pending is "unfair both to the voters of the state and to same-sex couples themselves. If the state Supreme Court were to uphold marriage as they should do, then the validity of the ‘marriages’ that will be performed starting next week will be called into question."

In the same way, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) has made it clear for months he and other Obamacare opponents needed to block the landmark health care law before people could actually sign up for insurance. In mid-July Cruz introduced legislation to defund the law, calling it "the most expensive entitlement for our generation."

"The clock is ticking, and the time to act is now – Obamacare full implementation is set for January 1, 2014, but the enrollment for new entitlements starts on October 1, 2013," Cruz said at the time.

In other words, once Americans received the new entitlement, they wouldn't want to lose it, in the same way seniors came to embrace the prescription drug benefit they received under Medicare Part D during the George W. Bush administration.

And Democrats are counting on that fact, despite the many problems the federal health care system has experienced since its Oct. 1 rollout.

As House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) put it on ABC's "This Week" on Sunday, when discussing HealthCare.gov: "This has to be fixed, but what doesn't have to be fixed is the fact that tens of millions of more people will have access to affordable, quality health care. That no longer having a preexisting medical condition will bar you from getting affordable care."

Cruz and other Obamacare opponents know that while enrolling online might not be the same as getting married at the stroke of midnight, the clock is ticking nonetheless.

Juliet Eilperin is The Washington Post's White House bureau chief, covering domestic and foreign policy as well as the culture of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. She is the author of two books—one on sharks, and another on Congress, not to be confused with each other—and has worked for the Post since 1998.



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