Democratic presidential hopeful Beto O’Rourke admitted Sunday that his plan to remove tax exempt status from those religious institutions that don’t officially recognize same-sex marriage would apply to mosques, historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs), and predominantly black churches.
O’Rourke, trying to outdo his fellow contenders for the Democratic nomination in a forum on LGBTQ issues last week, claimed that he would take the drastic step of removing tax exempt status from any institution that refused to perform or host same-sex marriages, even if the practice goes against that institution’s core dogma.
Democrats were quick to distance themselves from O’Rourke’s plan and the field’s only LGBT candidate, South Bend mayor Pete Buttigieg, even condemned O’Rourke’s idea, calling it a violation of Constitutional principles and suggesting that O’Rourke failed to understand the “implications of what he was saying.” Such a move, Buttigieg explained, would hobble organizations dedicated to providing services to their home communities by forcing them to contribute a portion of their donations back to the Federal government.
Conservatives on social media also quickly pointed out that O’Rourke’s policy would affect Muslims and historically black colleges and universities — not just the religious conservatives and Evangelical Christians that O’Rourke appeared to believe were at the root of the “intolerance” he considered problematic.
Sunday, O’Rourke begrudgingly admitted that he’d go after mosques and HBCUs, too, if they refused to see the error of their ways and embrace same sex marriage without question.
“To be clear, you are free to believe anything that you want to in this country. To associate with whom you please, to practice your faith as you best see fit,” O’Rourke told MSNBC, according to a report in the Daily Caller. “But you are not allowed to discriminate against people in this country, to violate their civil rights or their human rights.”
“To be specific, the way that you practice your religion or your faith within that mosque or that temple or synagogue or church, that is your business, and not the government’s business,” O’Rourke continued. “But when you are providing services in the public sphere, say, higher education, or health care, or adoption services, and you discriminate or deny equal treatment under the law based on someone’s skin color or ethnicity or gender or sexual orientation, then we have a problem.”
Historically, that designation has not applied to performing same-sex marriages because such an action would involve a church actively participating in an activity that violates a core principle of it’s belief system.
The Supreme Court has regularly protected churches and other expressly religious institutions against being compelled to such “material cooperation,” and considers such protection a function of the First Amendment’s Free Exercise clause. The Court has not, however, directly discussed the same-sex marriage issue (though any attempt to enact a policy like O’Rourke’s would naturally result in immediate litigation).
This clarification isn’t likely to win O’Rourke many fans to his flagging presidential campaign. Since announcing his intention to seek the 2020 Democratic, O’Rourke has not broken double digits in polling and has never been considered a front runner.