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Zach Wahls, who defended his lesbian moms' right to marry, reflects on political victory

Wahls is headed to the Iowa State Senate nearly eight years after he went viral on YouTube for defending his moms’ right to marry.
Zach Wahls poses for a photo with his moms, Jacqueline Reger, left, and Terry Wahls, right, in New York in 2012.
Zach Wahls poses for a photo with his moms, Jacqueline Reger, left, and Terry Wahls, right, in New York in 2012.Ray Tamarra / FilmMagic

Zach Wahls was 19 when he went viral on Youtube in 2011. In his three-minute video, which garnered more than 3 million views since it was first posted, Wahls stood in front of the Iowa House of Representatives to defend his lesbian moms’ right to marry.

“My family really isn’t so different from yours,” Wahls, a University of Iowa student at the time, said in his speech opposing a resolution that sought to ban same-sex marriage in the state. “After all, your family doesn’t derive its sense of worth from being told by the state, ‘You’re married, congratulations.’ No, the sense of family comes from the commitment we make to each other, to work through the hard times, so that we can enjoy the good ones.”

Now, nearly eight years later, the 27-year-old Wahls is fresh off a victory for a seat in the Iowa State Senate, where he defeated his Libertarian opponent by more than 50 percentage points. The senator-elect, one of the youngest in the state, said he’s humbled to have been elected by those in his community.

“It sends a pretty powerful message of how far and how fast families like mine, that have one or more LGBT parents, have come in America,” Wahls told NBC News on Monday.

His desire to run for elected office was driven by a motivation not dissimilar to the one that compelled him to stand up for his moms’ right to marry each other.

“It was more than anything else about standing up and doing the right thing, and obviously our politics can use more of that,” Wahls said.

Starting in January, Wahls, a Democrat will represent the Iowa upper chamber’s 37th District, which sits in the eastern part of the state, not far from the Illinois border. Members of the Iowa State Senate serve four-year terms and are not subject to term limits.

After Wahls won, the senator-elect posted a message to Twitter calling for bipartisanship in the state’s government.

“There are many priorities Democrats and Republicans should be able to work on together,” he stated. “I’m thinking about the single mother who can’t afford affordable health insurance and is thinking about leaving Iowa. I’m thinking about the farmer whose markets for exports and shrinking.”

In his post, Wahls then vowed to “fight for everyone who, like my family, have been left out or left behind or used as a political target.”

Wahls first announced his desire to run for office in December of 2017, saying he was doing so “for one simple reason.”

“This is an all-hands-on-deck moment that will determine the future of our state for generations to come, and I feel responsible for doing my part,” Wahls said in a statement at the time. “Our state has a choice to make. Are we going to let Republicans continue their attacks on healthcare, education, and workers’ rights or are we going to stand and fight for the values that have defined this state for hundreds of years?"

On Monday, Wahls admitted Donald Trump’s presidency was a factor in his decision to run.

“I felt after the 2016 election a responsibility to do as much as I could to try and turn things around,” Wahls explained. “When the opportunity to run for the State Senate seat opened up, I felt I had a responsibility to do the most that I could, which in this case was running for the State Senate.”

Prior to pursuing politics, Wahls completed his bachelor’s degree and then went on to attain a master’s degree from Princeton. He also remained an advocate for LGBTQ rights: He published a book in 2013 about his family, titled “My Two Moms,” and has been involved with a number of organizations dedicated to gay rights, including Scouts for Equality and the Family Equality Council. One of his most recent projects, The Rainbow Letters, is an online collection of letters written by the children of same-sex parents.

Wahls said he is looking forward to fulfilling his campaign promises to Iowans on health care, education and workers’ rights once he takes office, but he also said he’s working toward a national-level goal.

“Donald Trump lied about being the most friendly LGBT president in history. He made that promise, and it’s a promise he broke,” Wahls said. “I think it’s really important that LGBT folks and allies come together to make sure we remove him from office in 2020 in the election.”