Presidential candidate Beto O'Rourke (D., Texas) said he would strip religious institutions of their tax exempt status if they oppose same-sex marriage.
"We are going to stop those who are infringing upon the human rights of our fellow Americans," the former congressman said during CNN's Equality Town Hall on Thursday.
CNN host Don Lemon pressed O'Rourke on the particulars of his plan for LGBT Americans.
"Do you think religious institutions like colleges, churches, charities, should they lose their tax exempt status if they oppose same sex marriage?" Lemon asked.
O'Rourke answered with an unequivocal yes, and stressed that as president, he would make punishing religious organizations a priority.
"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.
His remarks sparked condemnation from Republican lawmakers. Sen. Ben Sasse (R., Neb.) said O'Rourke's approach would criminalize any and all "religious convictions [that] don’t fall in line with his progressive politics."
"This extreme intolerance is un-American," Sasse said in a statement. "This bigoted nonsense would target a lot of sincere Christians, Jews, and Muslims. Leaders from both political parties have a duty to flatly condemn this attack on very basic American freedoms."
Religious liberty groups said O'Rourke's proposal threatens fundamental constitutional rights. Luke Goodrich, an attorney with the nonprofit firm Becket Law, said the government should not target religions based upon their traditional beliefs.
"Stripping the tax-exempt status of religious groups simply because they hold beliefs that the government dislikes is blatantly unconstitutional,"Goodrich said in a statement. "It's also foolish because those groups provide billions of dollars in essential social services to their communities. Churches and ministries should be allowed to hold centuries-old beliefs without fear of government retribution."
O'Rourke has previously expressed his support for abortion up to the day before birth, telling a crowd at the College of Charleston, "this is a decision that neither you, nor I, nor the United States government should be making."
He is struggling to gain traction among Democratic voters, and faces the strong possibility of missing out on the fifth Democratic presidential debate in November due to weak polling.