Iowa teenager's passionate speech in support of equal marriage laws

This week, the Iowa legislature took a step toward amending their state's constitution so that it specifically bans marriage between two men or two women.

Zach Wahls—a 19-year-old Iowa college student and the son of two mothers—is one of the many Iowans who thinks it's wrong to grant special privileges to some families, and deny them to others, based solely on sexual orientation. In a passionate speech to the House Committee, he told legislators that their decision won't change his family and their love for one another, but codifying discrimination will change Iowa—in ways that harm everyone.


  1. Excellent speech! Sounds like he was rushed (time limited) though .. anyone wanna remix that and give it a tad more uump by allowing some pausing?

    1. while remixing it we should cut in some of the hired fainters that Obama uses, and maybe a cut to some forest creatures crying anthromorphically.

      Why when someone, like this fine young man, makes a speech does some spin doctor want to “remix it” to make it “more real”?

  2. Great job. He makes me proud of my state even as the legislature shames me. My votes only go so far, unfortunately.

    The good news is, just like the US Congress, this ban is not likely to make it through the Senate.

  3. The sexual orientation of my parents has had zero effect on the content of my character.

    Actually, I’d say it has had quite a positive effect, as they seem to have helped him become a better kid than most.

    1. I was going to say that..
      He seems more articulate than most 19 year old, and seems to be unusually well at ease with himself. Maybe the two mothers have been quite supportive and understanding and taught him well that being yourself is the most important thing?

      Anyway, “are same sex parents any good” is a stupid question, and it amazes me that people are actually asking this. Good parenting does not rely on penises, vaginas, gills, or a trunk.

      1. “He seems more articulate than most 19 year old, and seems to be unusually well at ease with himself. Maybe the two mothers have been quite supportive and understanding and taught him well that being yourself is the most important thing?”

        I’m guessing that that has to do with it, as well as the fact that he was part of one of Iowa’s best Speech and Debate teams in High School (Iowa City West).
        (As in, The speech was motivative by his parents and the reson the speech was good was because of his training.)

  4. I lived with this guy in the dorms last year. He is an amazing fellow. And he plays Magic: the Gathering really well.

  5. Whenever anyone mentions that they fear for the future when some 19-year old kid does something really dumb, I’m going to remember this speech to remind myself that there is also hope in the future. Awesome and powerful truth and something everyone needs to hear.

  6. Eh. I’ve seen better speeches by well-adjusted children of gay parents delivered on the eve of an otherwise well-functioning legislature passing discriminatory constitutional amendments. Wait…no, I haven’t. I hope Iowa makes the right decision on this.

    No, but seriously folks, I am an Iowa Law alumnus. Iowa is literally littered with well-spoken young men and women who are dedicated to equality and good government. You would probably be shocked at the number of right wing nutters — real Bush/Cheney apologists — who share Wahl’s views on gay marriage. Strange state. Best place I ever lived, best people (on average) I ever met. Remember — the supreme court decision (the one that led the good people of Iowa to vote not to retain the justices) was unanimous.

  7. @kmoser: Came here to say exactly this. This kid man has more character than most kids I’ve seen his age and probably so because of the fact that he was raised in the environment he was. From the looks of it, whether he realizes it or not, he was raised to exhibit a higher level of tolerance and compassion than average.

  8. Holy moly, what a fantastic speech! Did the Iowa legislature not hear about the 9th circuit’s smack down on prop 8 in CA? Equal Protections people, Equal Protections.

  9. According to Matthew Rettenmund @ Boyculture:
    Joint Resolution 6, banning all same-sex unions of any kind in the state, despite his speech, has passed.

  10. Since when has the state had the power to regulate marriage, oh yea to prevent interracial marriage. Show up and say you are married who is the state to say different, damn big government laws.

  11. What an inspiring and articulate young man. It’s a shame his wise words fell on the deaf ears of the sicko jackasses who want to ban gay marriage.

      1. kmoser, I’m not sure in what spirit your comment about voting IA out of the union was meant. I’ll maintain heartily that, as one of only five states (NH, VT, MA, CT, IA, and the District) that does not weigh some unions as more union-y than others, it’s One of the Keepers. Not like CA. Not like NY. Not like ME. Unlike IL. Unlike WI. But again, I’m not sure what spirit prompts you to wonder if it could be voted out of the union – perhaps you’re wondering if states like CA and ME, where The People have reversed marriage rights, could band together and remove IA from the USA in the hopes of removing its court precedents in the face of a(n inevitable, I feel) SCOTUS case.

        Now, apologies in advance: I’m about to go off topic.

        Here’s another reason to keep Iowa: its process for amending its state Constitution is something to remark upon. A proposed amendment must pass the house and senate in one general assembly session, and then pass BOTH AGAIN in the next general assembly session. A GA session is two years long. So a proposed amendment must be written and argued well enough by two election cycles of elected officials – swept in on whatever voter-attitude wave they come in on (witness midterms, 2010, which brought IA this wave of flotsam) – to be deemed/voted “fit to ballot,” at which point it goes on the ballot for popular vote. Iowa has one of the least amended Constitutions in the nation and its thorough, measured process might well prevent a California-style marriage apartheid.

        Of course, since my family is from Iowa and I went to college there and fell in love there and am returning to marry there this year, I am biased. The current Senate is vowing to block – but even if they didn’t, this proposed amendment would have to pass AGAIN in two years’ time to go on the ballot two years from now. Worst case scenario, I’ll be married for two years and then get a “California Annulment” (is that a term yet? It had better be…) from The People.

        (And I’m not sure where the continuing attempts to recall all seven Supreme Court judges who voted (7-0) for marriage equality will fit in. Funders from in and out of state got the voters to fire three in November and the other four are certainly going to face similar challenge, sooner than the Constitution will.)

    1. IMHO, I don’t think it fell upon deaf ears, Mark.

      I think idiots rarely enjoy being proven wrong, and will persist in stupid behavior and reasoning just to make a point.

  12. Bravo for the zero effect. It depends on the character… but wait, the next time two gays “mistreat” their child, it will be because they are gay and not because they are just two horrible parents. All I’m saying is, to say, that gay parents are worse than others is as stupid as to say gay parents are better than others (as some comments suggest). As long as people think in such typologies, you may end up nowhere.

  13. Hopefully the public vote will be different?
    If the house voted along party lines, will the public vote along religious lines?
    Hopefully liberty shall win out.
    Even if it takes time.

  14. I debated with Zach in the East Iowa district when we were in high school. He’s definitely a great speaker.

  15. It sickens me that a majority of legislators could hear that speech and still vote the other way, but it’s some consolation to know that those Iowans are part of a generation which will soon be replaced by Zach’s.

  16. amazing speech! i hope zach realizes he would be a great person to keep this fight up, good luck to him and iowans in general.

  17. Good on you lad… I come from a heterosexual relationship and am currently in one with my wife with whom I have two beautiful daughters. What you said was very moving and heartfelt. It is unfortunate that you live in a place and time where you have to make this speech as it shouldn’t be at all necessary to justify or fight for the basic human rights of your parents. I wish you all the best in making a continued impact in this debate.

  18. Excellent speaker and speech. I agree with it all, except that it boils down to “I was raised by a gay couple, and I’m OK”. Those inclined to vote for the amendment would just think he was a lucky case, a tiny minority. “He’s OK despite his upbringing.”

    1. True, that others will hear only what they want to hear, but…he’s also saying that he himself, an unmarried heterosexual, is harmed by the amendment because it codifies prejudice against his family. As more and more people state publicly that their family is harmed, not because they themselves are gay, but because their sister or uncle or son is…there will come a tipping point. Homosexuality is directly represented by a small percentage of the population, but families with at least one homosexual member are in the majority. That’s where the voting has to come from.

  19. It raises the point that considering gay couples incapable of raising children is to impugn the character of anyone ever raised by a gay couple. Which is probably insulting to a lot of upstanding people. Are there not enough psychopaths from straight homes to disprove the notion that a mother and father will always produce a better person?

    Someone should make a satirical ad for a company that “fixes” unfortunate people raised by gay couples, instilling all of the “proper” values in them that they didn’t get because they weren’t raised by a proper (and implicitly homophobic) family.

    1. Mr. Mike – I know that I am sensitive about this, but I gotta say, with Iowa actually *on the leading edge* of a frontier of *non*-discrimination (as in, I can get married there this year, and I cannot in my own state of NY), it’s more like California and Maine that deserve your scorn. They’re the states that gave rights and then, because of the ways each state “works,” took them away – and “majority denies rights to a minority,” well, that’s no new frontier anyway.

  20. This was an really excellent speech – beautifully done. My only reservation is that I doubt it was very effective. Putting a face on an oppressed marginal group is good, but it also allows you to be written off as a biased anecdote. Personally (and this is as a gay man), I think that in a Midwestern state legislature, a rousing speech on big government, freedom of exercise of religion, keeping the state out of families and parental choices, etc. would have had a better shot at a significant, non-symbolic impact.

    Adapting your message and building coalitions is what democratic politicking is all about – it’s something that the GOP used to be really good at, and the left historically hasn’t been.

  21. As the daughter of a failed heterosexual marriage, living in a heterosexual Christian marriage. I understand exactly the prejudices he is arguing against. My husband and I are constantly being reminded by other people “like us” that supporting gay marriage is wrong because of all the effects it will have on the children of gay couples and the damage it does to the sanctity of marriage. We often surprise people in their hateful rants by stopping them and saying we whole heartedly disagree and that we will continue to support something that encourages love and acceptance. It must have made some people’s heads spin to see someone so well adjusted from an unconventional family which is quite surprising considering there really are no “conventional” families. Basing a relationship on love and wanting to commit fully to someone is something every person should have as a right. If it is a “Christian” thing, then they are quickly forgetting all the provisions God has provided in the bible that seem to go completely against his word like providing a handmaid for Abraham to have children with outside of marriage. We are really arrogant to believe we understand all the things God is doing and his judgement. While we worship God together we must remember God speaks to all of us individually, we are ALL different from each other and God loves each of us the same. If it is about the children of gay couples then I do believe Zac has proven them wrong. I was so moved by this speech. I really hope others hear this and rethink all those ignorant thoughts.

  22. FYI: There was a change of control of the Iowa House into Republican hands last fall, but the Senate remains majority Democratic. So this vote on amending the Iowa Constitution to ban gay marriage is the same sort of empty, masturbatory gesture that repealing Health Care Reform was in the US House of Representatives.

    Wahls is an Iowa City boy. We in Iowa City are proud to live in one of the gayest cities in America. It isn’t that uncommon for gay couples to be raising kids here — I can think of several I know personally.

  23. Seriously don’t understand this issue… maybe cos I’m not a bigoted homophobe…. but I just don’t get it…

    The argument against gay marriage to me seem like the have absolutely no merit.

    The “think of how it will affect the children” excuse…. what the hell does that have to do with gay marriage? far as I know you don’t need to be married to have children.. and you don’t have to have children because you are married so I don’t know how that even factors into gay marriage… or marriage at all actually.

    Sanctity of marriage…How is two people that love each other committing to each other forever a perversion of marriage? isn’t that the point?
    Sure its a perversion of some peoples backwards religious ideals but no one is arguing that.
    This is so they can legally marriage, no one is say the Pope is going to have to start conduction gay marriage ceremonies on mass.

    Don’t get it just give me one good reason why it shouldn’t be allowed… something provable something concrete… not the religious excuses.

  24. From what i can tell the major issue is all the legal and economic issues that is connected to the “married” status. One example may be the condition of health insurance and how that can only cover ones partner if your “married”.

  25. I like the reference to “content of character” from the “I Have a Dream” speech. It subtly and elegantly makes the point that discrimination by sexual orientation is just as wrong as discrimination by skin color. Like the battle for civil rights, defending the right to choose who we marry will be arduous, but I am confident that so long as there are people as courageous, passionate, and articulate as Zach, we will get through it, better and stronger than we were before.

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