Doug Kern, the Crow Wing County Republican Chair, penned a letter to the editor on Sunday that makes the claim if the anti-gay marriage amendment doesn’t pass same-sex marriage will be legal in two years and churches that don’t perform marriage for same-sex couples will lose their tax-exempt status. That is false.
Here’s what Kern said in a letter to the editor of the Brainerd Dispatch: “Jump ahead two years — if traditional marriage is a thing of yesterday, two men,or two women, walk into any church in Minnesota wanting to be married. If the pastor will not marry on grounds it is against the Biblical teaching he will be discriminating, Right? Yes…what will be the ensuing lawsuit and how much will it cost? For sure the “tax free” status will be immediately revoked and the state will step in to oversee the hate crime.”
The facts: There is no guarantee that same-sex marriage would become legal if the amendment doesn’t pass. It is possible, however, if a majority of legislators who support marriage equality are elected, are able to pass such a bill, and Gov. Mark Dayton signs it into law. No political observer expects a huge change in the current legislature which is controlled by Republicans. Some of the best case scenarios for the DFL are that they may have a slight majority in both chambers. But, as Minnesota for Marriage made clear when the current legislature voted for the amendment, it was bipartisan with a handful of DFL crossover. Not all DFLers support marriage equality, even if they opposed the amendment.
But even if, in the unlikely event, a marriage equality bill did get signed into law within the next two years, would churches that refuse to marry same-sex couples lose their tax exempt status?
No. The Seattle Times fact-checked a similar claim that said if gay marriage were legalized in that state, it would create a rash of lawsuits against private businesses that refused to serve gay couples. It found that in the 6 states that have legalized same-sex marriage, there was no increase in lawsuits.
But, Kern was talking about churches. There is one case where a church’s tax exempt status was challenged. That was in New Jersey where same-sex marriage is not legal. In addition, the church lost one form of tax exemption — it had been getting a favorable deal from the state because its property had been open to the public — in exchange for another one. That church still has its tax exempt status.
A search of newspaper clippings in the states where same-sex marriage is legal turned up no instances where a church lost its tax-exempt status for failing to marry a gay or lesbian couples.
Kern’s letter to the editor is false. Churches will not ose their tax-exempt status for not marrying gay couples. And a no vote on the amendment will not necessarily result in gay marriage becoming legal.