Six Consequences the Coalition [in Support of Proposition 8] Has Identified if Proposition 8 Fails – Second Consequence
2. Churches may be sued over their tax exempt status if they refuse to allow same-sex marriage ceremonies in their religious buildings open to the public. Ask whether your pastor, priest, minister, bishop, or rabbi is ready to perform such marriages in your chapels and sanctuaries.
Thurston/Response: This false “consequence” is based on the misrepresentation of a case in New Jersey involving an association affiliated with the Methodist Church. In considering that case, it is important to remember that New Jersey does not permit gay marriage, so that case had nothing to do with Proposition 8.
What was the New Jersey case about? The Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association (OGCMA), a Methodist organization, had taken advantage of a New Jersey law granting a state property tax exemption for a pavilion in the seaside town of Ocean Grove that was dedicated for public use. Note that the case did not involve income tax exemptions and note that the purpose for giving the exemption in the first place was to reward organizations for opening their buildings and facilities for public use.
The property in question was a boardwalk pavilion open to the public. “Bands play there. Children skateboard through it. Tourists enjoy the shade. It’s even been used for debates and Civil War re-enactments.” It was also available to be reserved for marriage ceremonies by people of any faith. Nevertheless, the OGCMA wanted to prohibit a gay commitment ceremony (not a marriage ceremony) from being held in the pavilion. The New Jersey real estate commission ruled that if OGCMA intended to claim a property tax exemption for a building open to the public, they could not discriminate. Seen in this light, it was a sensible ruling. Implicit in the ruling is that the group could discriminate if they ceased to claim a property tax exemption for a public facility. It is important to note that this ruling pertained only to the pavilion, which constituted a mere one percent of the property the OGCMA owned. The total amount of additional tax assessed was $200. The OGCMA continues to receive a property tax exemption for the remaining 99% of its property.
This case has nothing at all to do with any Mormon, Catholic or any other church’s chapel or sanctuary that is used for religious purposes. It has nothing to do with any church’s income tax exemption. To my knowledge, the Mormon Church has never sought to take advantage of a property tax exemption similar to the New Jersey exemption and likely never would.
The California Supreme Court ruling on gay marriage cannot have any federal tax consequences, and the Court so noted explicitly in its decision. The Supreme Court also noted that its ruling would not require any priest, rabbi or minister to perform gay marriages, which should be self-evident because of the First Amendment’s guarantee of freedom of religion.