Will religious schools be punished by the government in the wake of the Supreme Court's decision declaring a constitutional right to same-sex marriage? During oral arguments of the Supreme Court case, the Obama administration's top lawyer said that the charitable tax status of religious organizations that oppose gay marriage was "certainly going to be an issue." But for now, Senate Democrats appear to be uncertain about whether that's a step they want to take.

On Wednesday, Richard Durbin, the second most powerful Democrat in the Senate, said he was unsure if he would support revoking the charitable tax status of religious schools. "There's no question this was an historic decision, and now we're going to go through a series of suggestions for new laws to implement it," Durbin told THE WEEKLY STANDARD in the Capitol building. "I can't predict how this will end. But from the beginning we have said that when it comes to marriage, religions can decide what their standards will be."

But should religious protections extend beyond houses of worship to, say, religious schools that require employees to affirm their faith's teaching about marriage? "Getting into a challenging area, and I don't have a quick answer to you," Durbin replied. "I'll have to think about it long and hard."

Senator Bernie Sanders, a socialist from Vermont who is running for the Democratic presidential nomination, was asked Sunday if religious institutions opposed to same-sex marriage should lose their tax status. “I don't know that I would go there," Sanders said.

Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland, however, seemed open to taking away the charitable tax status of some religious institutions. "Religious freedom allows you to deal with teaching your religious principles without interference of the government. But when you're dealing with rights of third parties, then the protections are afforded for you to get the privileges of your tax-exempt status," Cardin said on Wednesday. "You have the freedom to teach, to preach the way you believe without losing your tax exempt status, the answer is yes. If you are affecting the rights of third parties, then you've crossed the line." 

"Employment is subject to protections," Cardin said. "I'm not sure how it applies to Christian-run schools."

But Senator Tammy Baldwin, a Democrat from Wisconsin, came out strongly against revoking tax-exempt status of religious schools opposed to same-sex marriage. "I just think that religious organizations should not be taxed," Baldwin told me. "The last thing we want is the government getting into looking at the principles of each particular faith and judging it. That is wrong and shouldn't occur."

Baldwin was criticized last week by supporters of religious liberty for saying that the First Amendment' protection of the free exercise of religion does not protect "businesses and individuals" engaged in commerce. Baldwin said on Wednesday that she supports states that have fined and punished bakers, for example, who declined to work same-sex weddings. She likened religious dissenters who decline to work gay weddings to the owners of "lunch counters that wouldn't let people of color sit [there]."

I asked Baldwin if that logic applied even to religious wedding singers. Could they be compelled by the government to sing religious songs at a same-sex wedding ceremony if they offer their services to the public? Baldwin wasn't sure. "I don't know that we have any specific case law that applies," she replied.