Former UI student Zach Wahls promotes gay marriage rights, releases new book

BY JENNY EARL | APRIL 26, 2012 6:30 AM

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In February 2011, Zach Wahls made a brief speech to state legislators about his two loving mothers in support of gay marriage. But for his book, My Two Moms, released today, Wahls had a little bit more wiggle room.

"It's essentially my extended statement," the 20-year-old and former University of Iowa student said. "I only had three minutes when I gave my speech to the Iowa House of Representatives. This allows me to tell my own story on my own terms."

And aside from being known as a YouTube sensation — his testimony before the Iowa House Judiciary Committee last January has generated over 2 million hits on the website — Wahls will now be the first Iowa "Why Marriage Matters" advocate to campaign across the state for gay marriage rights. The campaign is a part of the national campaign of the same name.

And campaigns promoting gay marriage rights are spreading across the country.

"We do have marriage equality for many people. My fear is they think this fight is over," said Molly Tafoya, communications director for One Iowa. "We know that that's not true. Our opposition is well funded and very vocal, they're committed to taking away the gains we made in marriage equality — that's exactly why we launched this campaign."

"Why Marriage Matters" is a $10 million public education effort that the organization Freedom to Marry created in 2011 and helped One Iowa implement in January. Evan Wolfson, president of Freedom to Marry and author of the book Why Marriage Matters said the campaign is especially important for Iowa, though its running nationwide.

"Iowa got hijacked by all kinds of political attacks," Wolfson said of the response to the legalization of gay marriage in Iowa in 2009. "In the rest of the country — a nationwide majority, freedom to marry has grown. The goal One Iowa has had is to have enough conversations in Iowa to help build the majority support the same way we've built the majority support in the rest of the country."

For now Wahls said he will put his school plans on hold to continue to fight for gay rights while the topic is hot. Partnering with One Iowa, Wahls will spearhead a "Why Marriage Matters Iowa" speaking tour in August.

Wahls said he wrote the book to give a voice for kids like him.

"It is not uncommon for kids like me like me to be referred to as child-abuse victims by the other side, and that's not OK," Wahls said.

Tafoya said the tour will focus heavily on speaking engagements within Iowa communities, nonprofit groups, businesses and churches, and working with college campuses and students.

She said they want to make LGBT about family — not politics.

David Kilmnick, executive director of CenterLink, a national association of GLBT community centers, said Iowa's campaign with Wahls as a public figure will be crucial to educating the masses about what this issue is really about.

"I think what most folks have seen is that the world hasn't crumbled," he said. "In fact, we're better off as a society focusing our attention on what we have in common amongst us all — we're all U.S. citizens — and this issue is about love, it's not about hate."

Wahls said his moms are both very proud of his LGBT efforts and happy with the finished product of his memoir.

"My mom, Terry, joked she would've been just as happy with me to still be having dinner with them once a week," he said. "But they said to have a passionate defense of our family and our commitment is really something special."

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