Articles | Posted by Julie Z on 04/6/2011

An Interview with Zach Wahls

Zach Wahls is a nineteen-year-old Engineering student at the University of Iowa. He is also a staunch gay-rights advocate who bravely and eloquently testified before the Iowa House of Representatives on behalf of his mothers, the video of which currently has over  1.7 million views.

Zach graciously agreed to answer some questions for the FBomb, and, believe me, if you don’t already have a crush on him, you’re about to.

You have been called the new “poster-child for straight allies who support marriage equality.” How do you feel about this title?

To be honest, I really don’t like being thought of as a “straight ally,” so to speak, because it implies that I’m somehow separate from the community, which is simply not the case. Gay rights are my rights as well, insofar as they directly affect my family and me. If my biological mom had died when I was seven, I wouldn’t have been able to live with my other mom, I would have been shipped off to live with one of my uncles. Jackie probably wouldn’t have even had visitation rights.

And ultimately, the fact is that so long as society views this struggle as one for “gay” rights, we’re not going to get a whole lot of traction. It’s a question of *civil* rights, just like we weren’t fighting for “black” rights during the 60s: we were fighting for equality. And we’re still doing that today.

That being said, I see I’ve got this awesome opportunity to speak out on behalf of my family and advocate for our rights, so I’m doing my best to have a positive impact and move this conversation in a healthy direction.

Why don’t you think that more children of same sex parents have spoken out in defense of gay rights / in support of gay marriage?

Well, first off, there aren’t actually that many of us that are as old as me. I’m not the oldest by any means. I actually know some people in their late 20’s/early 30’s who were raised by gay couples. They grew up during a time, however, where it really wasn’t acceptable to talk about their families or gay marriage generally. I mean, it really hasn’t been until the last few years where the support for marriage equality on a national level has really climbed, and recently reached a majority, which is phenomenal. So I’m at the age where gay marriage is increasingly accepted, but I’m still a “kid” insofar as my parents have clearly been the single largest influence on me, but I’m a kid who’s hold enough to have an independent opinion, and I happen to be a kid with a strong speech and debate background and the ability to articulate that opinion in a coherent, persuasive manner.

And while we’re at it, personally, I don’t even like the phrase “gay marriage,” because there’s really no such thing. It’s just marriage, and a question of whether or not the institution is discriminating against people who wish to marry someone of the same sex or not. This kind of ties into my answer to the first question.

Some critics have claimed that you – nor anybody else – have yet to offer a “logical” defense of gay marriage. How do you respond to this / what do you think is the ultimate defense for gay marriage?

Hahaha, yikes. That’s funny, because I have yet to hear a logical argument against marriage equality. If you accept the separation of church and state in this country, there really is no logical argument against marriage equality. If you don’t accept the separation of church and state in this country, I’d recommend re-reading the bill of rights, specifically the part about the state not establishing a religion.
But it comes down to this:

The US Supreme Court has ruled thirteen times that marriage is a fundamental civil right. As articulated in the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution, we all have equal protection under the law. The state recognizes marriage for two reasons: 1) to recognize the relationship between two loving people and to cede to them specifically the legal rights, privileges and protections that people in such a relationship deserve. (The right to execute each other’s will, hospital visitation rights, insurance rights, etc.) And 2) to encourage procreation, and thus the perpetuation of society. Because it has been scientifically demonstrated that gays are no worse at raising kids than heterosexual couples and that the kids are not damaged by having gay parents, and because it’s pretty clear that love is love regardless of the sex of the people involved, it is unconstitutional to take from gays their right to civil marriage. Period, the end.

Now, my mind can be changed on this. Seriously. If opponents of marriage equality can demonstrate that 1) Marriage is not a civil right (and overturn 13 US Supreme Court decisions) OR 2a) kids raised by homosexuals/bisexuals are somehow deficient or inferior to kids raised by heterosexuals AND 2b) that the love between people of the same sex is somehow less legitimate than people of different sexes, I wouldn’t necessarily support marriage equality. Seems unlikely that those points will ever be proved, though.

Do you think that your feelings about/perceptions of masculinity and what it means to be a man were in any way impacted by being raised by two women? Similarly, do you think your perceptions of gender or sexual norms were influenced?

Not particularly. Like most people of our generation, my perceptions of both masculinity and femininity were largely shaped by society, my peers and other socializing forces. Parents, in my experience, play a relatively small role in how we perceive masculinity and femininity. As far as sexual norms go, though, yeah, my parents probably had a measurable impact there, just to the point that I never thought homosexuality was *not* not-normal.

Do you consider yourself a feminist?


The gay marriage ban that set the stage for your testimony (House Joint Resolution 6) was ultimately passed, despite your moving words. How do you feel about this? Any future political activism planned?

Well the ban didn’t actually pass. House Joint Resolution 6 was a proposed constitutional amendment. For a constitutional amendment to pass, it must pass both houses of the Iowa General Assembly in two back-to-back sessions, each of which lasts two years. Those votes require only a simple majority. After that point, it then goes to the Iowa voters on the ballot, which also requires a simple majority of voters to approve it. HJR6 passed the Iowa House 62-37, but has not even come up for a vote in the Democrat-controlled Senate, and in all likelihood will not pass during this session, meaning that it couldn’t possibly reach the ballot box until late 2015. By that point, it seems likely that a majority of Iowans would not support redefining marriage in an exclusionary way. And I’ve got faith that even if it did come to pass, Perry v. Schwarzenegger will result in the striking down of all anti-gay marriage bans and amendments in the country.

Are you hopeful for our generation? Do you think the political landscape will change as we start voting in larger numbers and enter politics, and if so, how?

Very much so. For our generation, marriage equality isn’t an issue. Women’s rights and other minority rights are not an issue. An 18 year old in Alabama is more likely to support gay marriage than a 65 year old in Massachusetts. ‘Nuff said.

I think when it comes to social issues, the members of our generation are pretty much on the same page. Economic and foreign policy issues? Not so much. But, socially, I think we’re all pretty much in the same place and the policies implemented over the next few years will definitely reflect that.

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  • Noanodyne @ at 1:13 pm, April 6th, 2011

    In that speech to the legislature, Zach Wahls said: “The sexual orientation of my parents has had zero effect on the content of my character.” Sorry to cut short the happy narrative about how “feminist” Zach is, but with that one sentence he very effectively erasesd the actual lived experiences of his lesbian mothers and how those experiences affected him in turn. Not terribly feminist, that.

    In fact, let this actual feminist point out that being lesbian parents, especially in a place like Iowa, influenced Zach’s mothers’ lives daily (including the many ways they had to prove that they were good parents) and hence, his own. The content of his character has everything to do with how hard his mothers worked to make sure he had a healthy, happy childhood in spite of the massive bigotry they and he faced. Zach wouldn’t have grown up to be the kind of person to call out injustice if it weren’t for his lesbian mothers. From everything we know about such things, being lesbians made his mothers way better parents than average and had every bit to do with why Zach is who his is. Zach is damn lucky to have two lesbian parents. Maybe the next time he gets a soapbox, he’ll acknowledge that.

  • Kate M @ at 7:17 pm, April 6th, 2011

    @Noanodyne … okay, I’m not sure how/why you feel you know about Zach’s experience growing up and the challenges his parents faced better than he does, but I think what he meant is that aside from his mothers’ sexual orientation they are PEOPLE and as people, they were good parents. I think he means that sexual orientation doesn’t play into one’s parenting abilities, for better or for worse. Although I don’t want to speak for him.

  • Zoe @ at 10:41 pm, April 6th, 2011

    Yup. Got a bit of a crush now. Haha. Really, though, great interview and great to hear from role models like him.

  • Juliana @ at 2:57 am, April 7th, 2011

    Wow, what an inspiring guy. And yes, I have a crush on him too now. I appreciate how he comes at this so logically. For me, sometimes it feels so much easier to just yell “because that’s what’s right!” around such emotional and personal issues as these. I appreciate that he exercises more self control than I do at times :).

  • Talking With @ at 1:48 pm, April 7th, 2011

    Here’s an interview we just did with Zach where he talks about what it was like growing up with two mothers, what led him to decide to go and speak before the House of Representatives, how his life has changed after being thrust into the public eye, and what other young people can do to fight for equality and speak out against intolerance.

  • Kristen A @ at 6:41 pm, April 7th, 2011

    Noanodyne, while you make an excellent point, you are also not looking at the context of Zach’s comment. Clearly he said that in response to claims that having a non-cis-hetero family absolutely negatively impacts children, which we all know is untrue. Also, it’s unfair for you to claim that those of us who do have cis-hetero “traditional” parents are less likely to speak up against injustices. Each person’s likelihood to speak out about issues such as this are determined on an individual basis from individual circumstances that occur when we are growing up.

    Zoe, definitely agree with you. He has a lot of potential to bring more cis-hetero dudes (and dudettes) into the conversation/movement in a positive, feminist way.

  • Liz @ at 10:20 pm, April 7th, 2011

    So many of my friends and I have talked about how we totally have crushes on him. There are not a lot of cis-hetero guys talking about this stuff and it’s beautiful that he IS and is doing it so WELL!

  • Wait @ at 8:00 pm, December 1st, 2011

    Has he ever actually stated that he is heterosexual, or is everyone just assuming until told otherwise? Very interesting.

  • anonymous @ at 11:49 am, December 3rd, 2011

    What makes you all so certain he is hetero?

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