President Trump is the latest to see an opening against Democrats for supporting for LGBT rights, criticizing Beto O’Rourke for proposing to lift the tax-exempt status on churches that oppose same-sex marriage.
Trump laid into O’Rourke, calling him a “wacko,” during a marathon speech at the Values Voter Summit, an annual summit hosted by the anti-LGBT Family Research Council, without explicit referring to the presidential candidate by name.
“As you know, just a few days ago, a Democrat running for president proposed revoking the tax-exempt status of many churches and religious groups,” Trump said. “And you why, and you know it is. He’s a wacko.”
Trump, touting his commitment to religious liberty (which in the circles of the Values Voters Summit means anti-LGBT discrimination), presented an alternative view.
“I will never allow the federal government to be used to target, harass or punish communities of faith and I will never allow the IRS to be used as a political weapon, as it has been and it is currently being used,” Trump said. “It has been used so viciously, so violently against many people in the room.”
O’Rourke comments on lifting the tax-exempt status for churches and religious organizations opposed to same-sex marriage has caused a firestorm among conservatives, who see it as an attack on their values and government intrusion on faith.
The candidate made the comments Thursday in Los Angeles during a LGBT forum hosted by CNN and the Human Rights Campaign when moderator Don Lemon asked O’Rourle if “religious institutions — like colleges, churches, charities — should they lose their tax-exempt status if they oppose same-sex marriage.”
The 2020 candidate — perhaps sensing an opportunity to distinguish himself from Cory Booker, who dodged a similar question — responded, “Yes.”
The audience, which was made up of LGBT rights advocates largely affiliated with the Human Rights Campaign, responded with applause.
“There can be no reward, no benefit, no tax break for anyone or any institution, any organization in America that denies the full human rights and the full civil rights of every single one of us,” O’Rourke said. “And so as president, we’re going to make that a priority and we are going to stop those who are infringing upon the human rights of our fellow Americans.”
In the conservative backlash that has followed, an O’Rourke spokesperson, Kolby Lee, told the Washington Blade the candidate’s views are being misrepresented.
“To clarify, Beto was referring to religious institutions who take discriminatory action,” Lee said. “The extreme right is distorting this for their own agenda.”