Fox News Wrongly Claims Churches Could Lose Tax Status Unless They Recognize Same-Sex Marriage

Fox News' Shannon Bream relied on a hate group's unsubstantiated talking points to stoke fears that churches could lose their tax exempt status if a Supreme Court ruling finds that state bans on same-sex marriage are unconstitutional. Bream has repeatedly relied on rhetoric from discredited anti-LGBT groups to peddle bogus and misleading information about issues related to LGBT equality.

On the May 6 edition of America's Newsroom, Fox News' Supreme Court correspondent Shannon Bream highlighted an exchange during oral arguments in Obergefell v. Hodges, the case that will determine the constitutionality of state bans on same-sex marriage. During the exchange, Justice Samuel Alito asked U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli whether religious colleges would be able to keep their tax-exempt status if the bans are found unconstitutional and they continue to oppose same-sex marriage. Verrilli said although he didn't know all the specifics, “It's certainly going to be an issue”:

The Fox News segment included an appearance by Travis Weber, a spokesman for the anti-LGBT "hate group," Family Research Council (FRC), who conflated the legal standing of religious colleges with that of churches, and suggested that churches could face “fines, potentially imprisonment” if the Court strikes down the bans and they refuse to recognize same-sex marriages.

The following day, Bream posted an article on that cited Weber's claim about churches losing their tax-exempt status, and bizarrely quoted unrelated comments Hillary Clinton made at the 2015 Women in the World summit -- about the need for more laws around the world that prohibit domestic violence against women and allow girls to attend secondary school -- to suggest that the U.S. government might decide to use its “significant leverage to coerce others to adhere to any specific viewpoint.”

The right-wing myth that churches might lose their tax-exempt status if they oppose same-sex marriage has been dismissed as "a scare tactic, plain and simple" by legal experts. As Caroline Mala Corbin, a legal expert on the First Amendment at the University of Miami School of Law, explained:

Given that churches have long been able to discriminate against women without losing their tax exempt status, it seems highly unlikely that they risk losing their tax-exempt status because they discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation.

Churches, unlike religiously-affiliated universities and colleges, have wide discretion in how they practice their faith, even when it contradicts federal or state law, which is why no church has ever had its tax-exempt status revoked for refusing to perform a same-sex wedding.

Bream's one-sided reporting here continues her pattern of relying on discredited anti-LGBT groups to manufacture controversies about LGBT equality.