Marshall Yates: Will Obama use IRS to silence religious groups on same-sex marriage?

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Weddings are typically not a time for politics, but because the U.S. Supreme Court is now considering altering the definition of marriage, a ceremony in which a minister highlights the biblical foundation of marriage could be found to be discriminatory.

I recently attended a wedding during which the minister spoke about the biblical principles of a marriage covenant. While his comments were simple and meant to be harmonious, his  unintentional “political” message led me to consider the possible ramifications of a court directly testing this religious doctrine.

Assuming the court rules in favor of same-sex marriage, where will that leave religious organizations that hold true to the biblical principle of marriage? As a consequence of an overly ambitious IRS, a religious organization that continues to adhere to such a belief could expect additional scrutiny over their tax exempt status. The possibility that this basic, longstanding religious belief could subject religious organizations to additional taxation contradicts the First Amendment in which the free exercise of religion is paramount.

Before discounting the possibility as fear mongering, consider two points. First, in response to questions by the court, President Barack Obama‘s top attorney, Solicitor General Donald Verrilli, admitted that the tax exempt status of certain religious organizations will become an issue if the Court holds in favor of same-sex marriage. During oral arguments, Justice Samuel Alito asked Verrilli whether a religious school that believed marriage was solely the union of husband and wife would lose their nonprofit tax status. Verrilli responded, “I don’t deny that, Justice Alito. It’s certainly going to be an issue.”

Second, President Obama has already tried to use the IRS to silence political opponents. Instead of Tea Party groups, now the opposition would be religious nonprofit organizations that advocate for a traditional definition of marriage. That would take aim directly at churches and church doctrine, signifying a major shift in the debate surrounding same-sex marriage. Up to this point, debate has focused on government’s involvement in marriage through the taxing and licensing process. However, if the Obama administration pursues the next step that the solicitor general left open to the Court, the churches will become the new target as states will no longer be the problem.

Justice Alito’s question also highlights the theoretical connection between the civil rights movement and the LGBT marriage movement. If the court’s opinion in any way associates the marriage with the civil rights movement, it is well within reason that a religious organization could have its tax exempt status revoked for opposing same-sex marriages. Court precedent notes that an institution receiving a tax exemption must “demonstrably serve and be in harmony with the public interest.” Who could guess how a court of law would interpret whether or not the public interest is served by any particular religious tenet? Churches, for the most part, have never been in the business of conforming to the overwhelming cultural demand for political correctness that has now seeped into our judicial system.

If the court follows the administration’s line of thinking, religious organizations would be forced to choose: either conform to new cultural norms to preserve their tax status or stand firm in their sincerely held beliefs and pay a financial cost for their convictions.

Marshall Yates is a legal fellow for the Alabama Policy Institute, a nonprofit research and education organization dedicated to the preservation of free markets, limited government and strong families.

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