Zach Wahls seemed a little more nervous appearing on the “Ellen” show than he did defending his parents’ gay marriage to the Iowa House of Representatives.
“Well, I guess found the strength protecting my family,” he told Ellen DeGeneres on the show that aired today on KCRG-TV9. “I think anyone would’ve.”
Wahls’ life has been a whirlwind since Jan. 31 when he gave an impassioned speech to the Iowa House before their vote on a bill that states marriage should only exist between a man and a woman, amending the Iowa Supreme Court’s 2009 decision to legalize gay marriage in Iowa.
The video of his speech quickly went viral, gaining more than 1.5 million hits on YouTube to date.
In his speech, Wahls, 19, an engineering student at the University of Iowa, spoke of his life with lesbian parents Terry Wahls, M.D., and Jacqueline Reger, of Iowa City.
“Our family really isn’t so different than any other Iowa family,” he told the House, explaining their day-to-day life.
“The sexual orientation of my parents has had zero effect on the content of my character,” he said before the House approved the proposed amendment.
The bill now goes to the Iowa Senate, where Democratic leaders have vowed to block it.
Shortly after his speech was posted on the internet, DeGeneres praised him on Twitter.
“I wanted to have you on as soon as I saw you,” she told him on today’s show.
Wahl’s biological mother, Terry Wahls, sat in the audience.
“What a great son you raised,” DeGeneres told her.
Wahls told DeGeneres why he spoke on behalf of gay marriage to the House.
“They’re lawmakers, they’re supposed to protect us, not take our rights away,” he said.
Although he didn’t change the minds of lawmakers, he said he has received a lot of response from people all over the world, including a soldier who grew up “anti-gay” in the Deep South. The soldier told Wahls his speech changed his mind about the repeal of the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell act, which banned gay and lesbian service members from serving openly in the military.
“To me you’re a hero for what you did,” DeGeneres told him. “I applaud you and I thank you for it for speaking out for so many people.”
Wahls was back at class at UI today after taping the “Ellen” show in Los Angeles on Wednesday.
Although he has received national attention in the past several weeks, he says he is not treated any differently while on campus.
“I look a lot different when not wearing a suit and tie,” he said. “I’m still just a student.”
He is still grasping the fact his testimony made such an impact. Days after the video went viral, he began fielding calls from the national media.
“The weird part was they wanted to talk to me at all,” he said. “The point of my testimony was we weren’t different. I”m just a kid going to school. It’s been overwhelming.”
He is also fielding a number of requests for documentaries, book deals and speaking engagements.
“Personally, my biggest focus is making sure House Joint Resolution 6 doesn’t become the law of the land,” he said.
He is also focusing on making a positive contribution to the national dialog about gay marriage and proving emotional support to children of gay parents.
“We are moving forward on this issue,” he said. “Hopefully, soon it won’t even be an issue.”
Terry Wahls, assistant chief of staff at the Iowa City VA Medical Center and professor of medicine at the University of Iowa, is proud of her son and the message he is sending.
“He’s standing up for the people he loves and those who love him,” she said from her Iowa City office today. “His message is resonating across the state, nation and globe.”
She says her family, which includes 16-year-old daughter Zebby, is “just as boring, just as ordinary as everybody else. We help the kids with homework, go to school functions.”
Her son’s message has put a face on gay families, she said.
She was a single parent when she gave birth through in vitro fertilization to Zack and Zebby. Both children have the same sperm donor, who was “tall, had a math and science background and was a concert pianist.”
Terry Wahls and Jacqueline Reger had a commitment ceremony in 1996 in Wisconsin and were legally married in 2009 in Iowa.
Zach Wahls was best man at the wedding ceremony, an event that came “about 15 years too late,” he said.
Ellen DeGeneres, Terry Wahls, Zach Wahls