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Tax exemptions and the church

July 9, 2013

I rarely give stuff from Breitbart the time of day, but this piece piqued my curiosity. Am I alone in thinking that churches losing non-profit status over the ability to perform state-sanctioned marriages isn’t a huge deal?

http://www.breitbart.com/Big-Government/2013/06/26/IRS-could-revoke-non-profit-for-religious-institutions

On the one hand, the idea of “we’re going to the chapel and we’re gonna get married” seems ingrained in the American psyche. On the other hand, I personally have no issue with holding a ceremony in a church to be married before God, family and friends then going to the county clerk’s office to get a piece of paper signed by a judge so I can get my IRS approved marriage status. I’m sure some churches would be affected as the general public won’t be beating the doors down to get a non-state-approved marriage from some random pastor at the pretty church building down the street, but as a matter of principle I have trouble justifying the idea that churches and pastors should bow down to the government in order to balance their power to marry (in the state’s eyes) and their tax-exempt status.

Anyway, I’d love to hear some feedback on this, either from WP readers or from those of you that know me on FB. It’s always been interesting to me that the concept of “separation of church and state” is used to justify the church’s tax-exempt status (I realize it also has to do with supposed public benefit, just like charities and non-profit hospitals) while pastors have the power (granted by the state) to effectively regulate marriage.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. July 9, 2013 11:28 am

    I think the implications of it are fairly tricky. On one hand I understand that by losing this status, it’ll put a lot of churches out of business. They’ll cease to be able to do their work if they have to pay income tax. I think donations will also decrease as people will no longer be able to take advantage of their giving on their income taxes.

    I, personally, feel that a lot of churches will allow this to happen instead of being mandated to perform same sex marriages. I, myself, being one of those people who would prefer to see the church we attend to go this route instead. In fact, I am licensed by the state of Virginia so I can facilitate marriages here, but if I am later on required to perform same sex marriages in order to keep this privilege, I’ll turn it back in or refuse to do the. I’ll conduct the religious side and tell my people to go to the Courthouse to get it legally done, if they wish.

    I do wonder how much more work the courts and justices would have to do if pastors were no longer able to perform marriages.

    • July 9, 2013 11:47 am

      Yeah. There is certainly a “close the doors” fear that a lot of people have for the church, and I’m sure to an extent it is valid.

      Looking at the specific case of “churches have to perform gay marriages under equal rights”, I think that there should be consideration that a church that performs zero state-sponsored marriages is fulfilling the requirements of equal rights under the law.

      • July 9, 2013 11:58 am

        I would imagine it is likely that it would be fulfilling those rights, but try and tell that to your average church goer or even American citizen. They believe that the person who officiates the ceremony will make it legal.

      • everythingisgenius permalink*
        July 9, 2013 12:27 pm

        Yeah…and ultimately, as we’ve discussed elsewhere, this is a problem of perception. We (citizens in general) demand government recognition for legitimization of things we want (say, marriage).

        Now, in CA, a same-sex couple can get married by an overseer of their choice. The question of what happens if that overseer says “no” is one that will eventually happen. You’d think people wouldn’t want to have a marriage ceremony performed by an unwilling party, but that just makes too much sense to be real.

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