- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 3, 2016

PIERRE, S.D. (AP) - Government agencies couldn’t revoke a group’s public funding or tax exempt status for acting upon its opposition to gay marriage, premarital sex or transgender rights under a South Dakota bill that passed its first legislative test Wednesday.

The House State Affairs committee sent the measure, which would also protect individuals, to the full chamber. Republican Rep. Scott Craig, who sponsored the plan, said people and organizations are facing repercussions from the government for actions based on religious beliefs or moral convictions.

Under the bill, government entities couldn’t take “discriminatory action” against people, companies and organizations, among others, for actions, speech or beliefs based on certain religious or moral convictions.

The measure’s protections deal with the beliefs that marriage should only be recognized as between a man and a woman, that sex is reserved for marriage and that that the terms male and female refer to biological sex that is determined by anatomy at birth.

“This is narrowly targeted to protect a small group of organizations and individuals that are particularly vulnerable in light of the same-sex marriage decision by the Supreme Court,” said Matt Sharp, an attorney with the non-profit legal organization Alliance Defending Freedom.

Sharp’s group put forward in support of the bill the example of Catholic charities in Illinois, whose contracts with the state weren’t renewed because they didn’t want to place children with couples who were in civil unions.

The American Civil Liberties Union of South Dakota opposes the measure, in part because of situations such as the one in Illinois. The plan would open the door to taxpayer-funded discrimination against LGBT people, unwed mothers and unmarried couples, Policy Director Libby Skarin said.

Skarin said she’s concerned the bill would allow state contractors or grant recipients such as homeless shelters or drug treatment programs to turn away LGBT people or anyone who has a sexual relationship outside of marriage.

“This bill purports to provide protections to a certain set of beliefs and to afford special privileges to those beliefs, and those beliefs only,” she said.

The bill protects against “discriminatory” governmental acts ranging from revoking an organization’s tax exempt status to denying access to a state grant, contract or public property. But the proposal would not protect government employees while they are working.

If the bill is passed, it would also allow people to bring violations to the courts.

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Follow James Nord on Twitter at https://twitter.com/Jvnord

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