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Conservatives warn IRS could target gay marriage opponents

WASHINGTON (AP) — A brief exchange during Supreme Court arguments in the same-sex marriage case has exploded into a full-blown crisis for some conservatives who warn that the IRS could start revoking the tax-exempt status of religious groups that oppose gay marriage.

The attorneys general of 15 states have written Congress asking for legislation to protect religious schools and other groups. Bills in the House and Senate are gaining support.

Officials are responding to the Supreme Court ruling in June that required every state to recognize same-sex marriages.

In a brief statement, the IRS said Thursday the ruling will not affect the standards agents use to evaluate tax-exempt organizations. Democrats, meanwhile, say Republicans are creating a straw man to fire up the GOP base as they try to resist America’s changing social mores.

“This is more than a hypothetical, this is well beyond firing up the base,” said Rep. Bill Flores of Texas, chairman of the Republican Study Committee, a group of conservative House members.

“This is based on the next round of attacks that have already been queued up,” Flores said Thursday. “This is simple… we’re protecting organizations based on their sincerely held religious beliefs.”

Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., said of the conservatives: “I think they’re looking for a wedge issue in the upcoming campaign, but I think they’re on the wrong side of history and I think the American people quite frankly aren’t interested in their culture wars.”

The kerfuffle started with a brief exchange back in April, when the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the same-sex marriage case.

Justice Samuel Alito asked the government’s lawyer about a 1983 court case that allowed the IRS to revoke the tax-exempt status of Bob Jones University, a Christian school in South Carolina. The school forbade students from dating or marrying students from another race. The school’s policy said students could be expelled for advocating interracial marriage or dating.

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