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Senators introduce bill to protect religious opponents to gay marriage from losing tax-exempt status

A group of U.S. senators has introduced a companion bill to a House proposal that would protect religious institutions and other nonprofits from losing their tax exempt status for opposing same-sex marriage.

The Marriage and Religious Freedom Act, introduced in the House in September by Idaho Republican Rep. Raúl Labrador, is in response to the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in a tax case in June that struck down parts of the federal Defense of Marriage Act.

President Barack Obama said in the wake of the court's decision that he would respect the religious liberty of institutions to define marriage according to their beliefs. But Utah Republican Sen. Mike Lee told the Washington Examiner that the bill he has authored in the Senate would prevent the bureaucrats from getting "around that promise by trying to revoke the tax-exempt status of churches that support traditional marriage."

"We need not just statements, but we need legislation to protect religious liberty from this kind of potential threat," Lee said in an interview with the Examiner.

A press release from Lee's office explains that the proposal would bar the government from denying any person or group tax-exempt status for exercising their religious conscience rights.

“This bill protects the rights of individuals and organizations from religious discrimination by the federal government,” Lee said in the release. “Those who believe in the traditional definition of marriage deserve respect and tolerance. It is critical that we clarify the law to ensure that their fundamental civil liberties are not at risk.”

However, opponents characterize both the House and Senate bills as licenses to discriminate against same-sex couples and others.

"Rather than protecting religious freedom, these bills would force taxpayers to abide by one particular set of beliefs by subsidizing opposition to same-sex marriage or any sexual activity outside of marriage," Think Progress reported. "The implications for this legislation are numerous, but could allow businesses to discriminate against employees with a same-sex spouse, government officials to discriminate against same-sex couples filing their taxes jointly, or religiously affiliated hospitals discriminating against patients with same-sex spouses."

Other bill sponsors include GOP Sens. Orrin Hatch, Utah; David Vitter, Louisiana; Marco Rubio, Florida, Tom Coburn and Jim Inhofe, Oklahoma; Pat Roberts, Kansas; Roy Blunt, Missouri; Thad Cochran and Roger Wicker, Mississippi; James Risch, Idaho; and Lindsey Graham, South Carolina.

The House version has 92 sponsors, including Democrat Reps. Mike McIntyre, North Carolina, and Daniel Lipinski, Illinois.

Lee's website also said these groups have endorsed the bill: United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Family Research Council, National Organization for Marriage, Heritage Action, Concerned Women for America, the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and the Liberty Counsel Action.

Email: mbrown@deseretnews.com, Twitter: @deseretbrown