During a CNN town hall on LGBT equality, Beto O’Rourke took a clearly unconstitutional position, saying that any church or religious organization that opposes same-sex marriage should lose its tax exemption. Christian right advocates were outraged, but so I am. It’s a terrible, terrible idea.
No, no, a thousand times no. First, it’s unconstitutional. You cannot offer a generally available government benefit only to those groups that agree with us. How trivially easy would it be to take the exact opposite position and deny a tax exemption only for those who are anti-equality? That would be equally unconstitutional. There may be specific circumstances in which an organization’s actions justify stripping them of their tax exemption or require legal coercion (like a Christian bakery refusing to make a cake for a same-sex wedding), but merely taking the position that same-sex marriage is morally wrong cannot be a constitutional basis for stripping an exempt organization of that exemption.
The former El Paso congressman made the comment Thursday night during a CNN town hall on LGBTQ rights. Anchor Don Lemon asked O’Rourke, “Do you think religious institutions — like colleges, churches, charities — should lose their tax-exempt status if they oppose same-sex marriage?”
“Yes,” O’Rourke replied without hesitating, drawing a round of applause. “There can be no reward, no benefit, no tax break, for anyone or any institution, any organization in America, that denies the full human rights and the full civil rights of every single one of us, and so as president, we are going to make that a priority and we are going to stop those who are infringing upon the human rights of our fellow Americans.”
Then there’s the practical objection. Give the government that kind of power in a still-predominately Christian country and who is more likely to find themselves on the losing end of the equation? Yep, we are. Bad, bad idea from every possible perspective.