Pete Buttigieg is distancing himself from Beto O'Rourke's recent statements that churches should lose their tax-exempt status if they don't support the freedom to marry.
At Thursday's LGBTQ+ Town Hall on CNN, O'Rourke was asked whether "religious institutions like colleges, churches, charities, should they lose their tax-exempt status if they oppose same-sex marriage" and responded that they should.
"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," he said.
Conservatives pounced on the statement, pointing out that the government can't penalize religious organizations for specific beliefs. There are laws that constrain organizations when it comes to conduct -- for example, religious schools that racially segregate students -- but the Constitution is generally seen as preventing the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) from choosing which religious beliefs would disqualify a church from being tax-exempt.
Conservatives jumped on O'Rourke's comments to express opposition to LGBTQ equality. Right-wing personality Ben Shapiro called it "a culture war," accusing those who favor marriage equality of trying to "indoctrinate" his kids and threatening that he would meet O'Rourke "at the door with a gun."
Donald Trump Jr. also jumped in, calling the desire for legal equality a "heavily dictated term."
Buttigieg responded to O'Rourke's position during CNN's State of the Union news show, and said that taking away tax exemption would mean making an enemy of many different religious groups.
"The idea that you're going to strip churches of their tax-exempt status if they haven't found their way towards blessing same-sex marriage, I'm not sure [Beto O'Rourke] understood the implications of what he was saying," Buttigieg said. "That means going to war with not only churches, but I would think with mosques and a lot of organizations that may not have the same view of various religious principles that I do."
Cory Booker was asked the same question and avoided giving a direct response.
"I'm not dodging your question," he said, adding, "If you are using your position to try to discriminate against others, there must be consequences to that. And I will make sure to hold them accountable using the DOJ or whatever investigatory. You cannot discriminate."
The New Jersey Senator appeared to be making a distinction between organizations that espouse bigoted beliefs and those that actually engage in discrimination.
For all the criticism his comments earned, O'Rourke stood by his statement throughout the week. But even as the candidate held firm, his campaign still tried to spin the comments, telling the Dallas News: "Of course, Beto was referring to religious institutions who take discriminatory action. The extreme right is distorting this for their own agenda."