Should U.S. religious groups that oppose same-sex marriage lose tax exemption?
THE RELIGION GUY’S ANSWER:
At CNN’s recent “Equality Town Hall” for Democratic presidential candidates, co-sponsored with the LGBTQ advocacy group Human Rights Campaign, anchor Don Lemon prodded Beto O’Rourke on whether “religious institutions like colleges, churches, charities” should “lose their tax-exempt status if they oppose same-sex marriage.”
O’Rourke (who self-identifies as Catholic) immediately answered “yes,” because “there can be no reward, no benefit, no tax break, for anyone, or any institution, any organization in America” that opposes such rights. “As president, we’re going to make that a priority.” The other candidates on stage assailed discrimination without specifying tax exemption. O’Rourke has, of course, dropped out of the White House race.
Later, Pete Buttigieg (an Episcopalian in a gay marriage) agreed that religious organizations such as schools “absolutely … should not be able to discriminate” and remain tax exempt, but he said rival O’Rourke hadn’t thought through that penalizing houses of worship would create a divisive “war.”
If government were to tax income or property or end tax deductions for donations due to traditional beliefs on sexuality, the targets would include the Catholic Church, the two biggest U.S. Protestant denominations and the largest African-American church body, countless evangelical congregations, Eastern Orthodoxy, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Orthodox Judaism and all Muslim centers and mosques.
O’Rourke subsequently seemed to back off, emphasizing that exemptions should be denied tradition-minded agencies that provide public services like “higher education, or health care, or adoption,” whereas practices within religious congregations are not the government’s business. (That might mean the government wouldn’t impose tax penalties due to sermons, parish education or refusal of gay weddings and clergy ordinations.)
The tax proposal poses palpable danger for a vast number of U.S. institutions, whether congregations or religious schools and agencies.