Last night, Republican Gary Gates surprised pollsters and political observers by beating Democrat Eliz Markowitz by a whopping 16 points in a race for Texas District 28's state House seat. The race had attracted outsized national attention due to the involvement of several Democratic presidential candidates, including Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren, who endorsed the Democrat candidate, and Michael Bloomberg and Julian Castro, who traveled to Texas to campaign with Markowitz.
However, no one worked harder to elect the Democrat than former presidential candidate Beto O'Rourke, who actively campaigned for Markowitz in District 28 in recent weeks. Although Texas Democrats -- who are attempting to flip the Texas state House from Republican to Democratic control -- initially thought Beto's involvement would help their candidate, they are likely rethinking their strategy after this election's result.
Beto's involvement in the failed campaign brought to the fore his own unsuccessful campaign for president, in which he famously called for the confiscation of guns and argued that churches and religious organizations should lose their tax-exempt status if they opposed same-sex marriage. In the closing weeks of the Markowitz campaign, voters in District 28 were repeatedly reminded that national Democrats like Beto are advocating for policies that undermine America's long tradition of cherishing religious freedom. As evidenced by Gates' victory last night, voters balked at the idea of sacrificing their religious liberty for the sake of an activist agenda driven by the interests of the LGBT lobby (Markowitz was endorsed by the Human Rights Campaign, the largest national LGBT rights organization).
As we look toward November, the most important take-away from last night's election is that voters understand the implications of electing candidates who oppose America's historic commitment to religious freedom. Voters notice whether candidates and elected officials respect the religious beliefs of their constituents or view them with contempt for holding to these deeply-held beliefs.
Religious liberty has long enjoyed strong bipartisan support in this country, but in recent years, this bipartisan support is increasingly becoming less prevalent. Just last year, the Democrat-led U.S. House of Representatives passed the Equality Act, which would codify sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes equal to race and ethnicity in U.S. civil rights law. In addition to forcing this ideological mandate on our entire country, the legislation would also strip religious protections currently in place under the Religious Freedom and Restoration Act. Beto O'Rourke co-sponsored the Equality Act while a member of Congress. If it were to become law (and it could if Democrats retake the Senate majority and White House this November), Christians and members of any faith with objections to same-sex marriage and homosexuality could be compelled to violate their religious beliefs in a variety of ways.
Religious freedom is now under assault in political campaigns, the legislature, the judicial system, and the business sector. Most voters want their elected representatives to defend their constitutionally-protected rights -- including religious liberty -- not try and take them away.
Earlier this month, President Trump marked Religious Freedom Day by explaining that religious freedom is a "precious and fundamental right." Last night, by rejecting a candidate and platform that would have undermined America's first freedom, citizens in Texas' 28th district signaled that they agree with the president's expansive view of religious freedom. This is a welcome sign and a trend that will hopefully continue.