Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Prop 8 and Tax Exemption

Here is the church's response to the Prop 8 hullabaloo:
Since Proposition 8 was placed on the ballot in June of this year, the citizens of California have considered the arguments for and against same-sex marriage. After extensive debate between those of different persuasions, voters have chosen to amend the California State Constitution to state that marriage should be between a man and a woman.

Voters in Arizona and Florida took the same course and amended their constitutions to establish that marriage will continue to be between a man and a woman.

Such an emotionally charged issue concerning the most personal and cherished aspects of life — family, identity, intimacy and equality — stirs fervent and deep feelings.

Most likely, the election results for these constitutional amendments will not mean an end to the debate over same-sex marriage in this country.

We hope that now and in the future all parties involved in this issue will be well informed and act in a spirit of mutual respect and civility toward those with a different position. No one on any side of the question should be vilified, intimidated, harassed or subject to erroneous information.

It is important to understand that this issue for the Church has always been about the sacred and divine institution of marriage — a union between a man and a woman.

Allegations of bigotry or persecution made against the Church were and are simply wrong. The Church's opposition to same-sex marriage neither constitutes nor condones any kind of hostility toward gays and lesbians. Even more, the Church does not object to rights for same-sex couples regarding hospitalization and medical care, fair housing and employment rights, or probate rights, so long as these do not infringe on the integrity of the traditional family or the constitutional rights of churches.

Some, however, have mistakenly asserted that churches should not ever be involved in politics when moral issues are involved. In fact, churches and religious organizations are well within their constitutional rights to speak out and be engaged in the many moral and ethical problems facing society. While the Church does not endorse candidates or platforms, it does reserve the right to speak out on important issues.

Before it accepted the invitation to join broad-based coalitions for the amendments, the Church knew that some of its members would choose not to support its position. Voting choices by Latter-day Saints, like all other people, are influenced by their own unique experiences and circumstances. As we move forward from the election, Church members need to be understanding and accepting of each other and work together for a better society.

Even though the democratic process can be demanding and difficult, Latter-day Saints are profoundly grateful for and respect the ideals of a true democracy.

The Church expresses deep appreciation for the hard work and dedication of the many Latter-day Saints and others who supported the coalitions in efforts regarding these amendments.

One issue that the protesters don't understand is the tax exempt status of churches (otherwise know as 501(c)3 organizations). There are two areas of lobbying of concern: political activities and legislative activities. According to the IRS, as to political activities, "501(c)(3) organizations are absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office." The church has never, directly or indirectly, participated in such activities. In fact, over the years the church has consistently encouraged members to be politically diverse. Here is a good link with information on that issue.

As to legislative activities, the line is a little more fuzzy. The IRS defines that line by stating that "no organization may qualify for section 501(c)(3) status if a substantial part of its activities is attempting to influence legislation (commonly known as lobbying). A 501(c)(3) organization may engage in some lobbying, but too much lobbying activity risks loss of tax-exempt status." The IRS considers hours put in by paid workers and volunteers and expenditures devoted to the action. So the church may influence legislation so long as such activities do not constitute a substantial part of its activities. Unfortunately for the protesters, the LDS Church is big and has a lot of money, so it would take an enormous effort to cross the line in the so-called "substantial part test."

According to this list, the church itself donated $4,943 to support Prop 8. The church does not release financial information, but it is believed to have billions of dollars in assets. Members individually donated millions more. But this is just a drop in the bucket compared to the available assets. And the few thousand volunteers that got involved were just a small percentage of members in California, the United States, and throughout the world. There is no good argument that the church devoted a substantial part of its resources to Prop 8, especially given the hundreds of millions of dollars donated every year to issues such as poverty, disease, and natural disaster relief.

So, while I may disagree with how the church's went about its support for Prop 8, the protesters calling for a loss of the church's tax exempt status are either ill-informed or voluntarily deluding themselves.

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