Washington D.C., Aug 8, 2015 / 15:02 pm
Following the Supreme Court decision declaring same-sex civil marriage to be a fundamental right, the Internal Revenue Service said it has no intention of revoking religious non-profits' tax status.
Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, who made the inquiry to the IRS, said its statement was "a victory for religious freedom in America and for the non-profit charities, churches, and religiously affiliated universities who feared they would be denied tax-exempt status by the IRS because their sincerely held religious beliefs prohibit them from participating in same-sex marriage."
He said his office will "trust but verify" the IRS and continue to monitor its actions to "ensure Americans aren't targeted unfairly for exercising their religious beliefs."
IRS Commissioner John Koskinen told the attorney general that it does not view the June 2015 Supreme Court decision Obergefell v. Hodges as "having changed the law applicable to section 501(c)(3) determinations or examinations."
"The IRS does not intend to change the standards that apply to section 501(c)(3) organizations by reason of the Obergefell decision," Koskinen said.
Pruitt, the Oklahoma attorney general, said the IRS letter "provides needed assurance" of protections for First Amendment rights.
The 5-4 Supreme Court decision, authored by Justice Anthony Kennedy, declared a "fundamental right to marry" for same-sex couples. It claimed as precedent previous court rulings against bans on interracial marriage.
In the Supreme Court's oral arguments about "gay marriage," Justice Samuel Alito asked U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verilli whether a religious school that held marriage was only a union of one man and one woman could face threats to its tax exemption. Verilli said that this was "certainly going to be an issue."
The Solicitor General's comments were noted by Chief Justice John Roberts, who said in his dissent "There is little doubt that these and similar questions will soon be before this court."
Beginning in 1970, the IRS started to revoke the tax exempt status of universities that practiced racial discrimination, which was illegal under federal law. In 1976, it officially revoked the tax exempt status of Bob Jones University, an evangelical Christian school in South Carolina which banned interracial dating on religious grounds. The revocation applied retroactively to 1970.
The university challenged the IRS in a lawsuit that reached the U.S. Supreme Court. The high court sided against the school in the 1983 decision Bob Jones University v. United States.
There is currently no federal law barring discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. However, some federal rules have been interpreted by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in a way that may allow lawsuits from employees who contract a same-sex civil marriage.