Beto O’Rourke said Thursday night that, if elected president, he would revoke the tax-exempt status of churches that oppose same-sex marriage, The Dallas Morning News reports.
Speaking Thursday night at a CNN town hall devoted to LGBTQ issues, host Don Lemmon asked O’Rourke directly if he thinks religious institutions, such as churches, colleges, and charities, should lose their tax-exempt status if they oppose same-sex marriage.
O’Rourke was unambiguous in his response, simply saying, “Yes.”
The response drew applause from the audience.
O’Rourke then expanded on what he meant.
“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. So as president we’re going to make that a priority and we are going to stop those who are infringing on the rights of our fellow Americans,” he said.
Religious Organizations and Tax-Exempt Status
According to legal aid organization Nolo.com, religious organizations such as churches, charities, and schools are all considered charities for tax purposes. Because charitable activities include the advancement of religion, that means that such organizations are exempt from paying income and property taxes.
However, a 1954 amendment to the tax code, known colloquially as the Johnson Amendment, limits what such organizations can do without risking their tax-exempt status. Specifically, according to Newsweek, the amendment was put into place to prevent such tax-exempt organizations from endorsing political candidates. It does not prohibit such organizations from engaging in all political activity.
Beto O’Rourke on religious institutions losing tax-exempt status for opposing same-sex marriage: “There can be no reward, no benefit, no tax break for anyone … that denies the full human rights and the full civil rights of every single one of us” #EqualityTownHall pic.twitter.com/0ruxeIao8o
— CNN Politics (@CNNPolitics) October 11, 2019
However, Newsweek notes that, in general, the IRS has generally been less than zealous about enforcing this provision, and indeed, only one case of such an organization being stripped of its tax-exempt status is known, and it happened before the Clinton administration.
O’Rourke’s Other Bold Stances
The El Paso businessman’s bold and unambiguous declaration that he would remove the tax-exempt status of religious organizations that oppose same-sex marriage comes just a few weeks after he made a similarly-bold statement about another issue: gun rights.
Following the August 3 mass shooting at an El Paso Walmart, O’Rourke said that not only does he support a ban on assault-style weapons, he also would institute a mandatory buyback of all such weapons, and that any owners of such weapons who didn’t comply with the buyback would have their weapons confiscated. Further, O’Rourke stated that he wants to revoke the tax-exempt status of the National Rifle Association (NRA).