The organization In Defense of Marriage hopes enough Oregon residents have similar beliefs: that marriage should be reserved only for hetero couples. To make this viewpoint heard, the organization has spent the past few weeks in a desperate effort to gather enough signatures to qualify a voter initiative for November's ballot.

But, in its signature-gathering effort, the organization may have put its ambitions in front of common sense, drawing churches dangerously close to violating basic federal tax laws.

For the past few weeks, In Defense of Marriage, along with the Christian Coalition, has been running a high-profile signature-gathering campaign. To qualify for November's ballot, it needs to gather 100,000 signatures by July 7. Figuring it would hit a rich vein of staunch conservatives, the organization has been advertising its efforts at Sunday services from Coos Bay to 82nd Avenue. But here's the problem: Under federal tax laws, the tax-exempt status of churches, like non-profits, is conditioned upon the agreement they will not take part in partisan politics--otherwise, explained an IRS spokesperson, it could be construed as the federal government favoring one party over the other.

So far, no one has formally complained to the IRS. But according to a spokesperson for Basic Rights Oregon, they have received phone calls from "a number of people" who feel "uncomfortable with the conflagration of politics in their church."

"The problem is that it is very difficult to quantify [what a violation is]," added the spokesperson. "It would have to be a flagrant violation."

The spokesperson also noted there's a good reason why this avenue of attack isn't being actively pursued.

"From what we've seen," she said, "is that most of the churches are pretty subdued and [the signature gathering] really isn't generating as much excitement as the In Defense of Marriage Coalition has been claiming."

To report any violations of federal tax laws, contact the IRS' investigative officers at 800-829-0433.

by Phil Busse