So, Which Chopstick Is The Fork?


Zach Wahls speaks at Mount Mercy April 2.

Zach Wahls speaks at Mount Mercy April 2.

The story Zach Wahls told about one of his mothers being hospitalized in agony, and his other mother being unable to give medical information or make medical decisions because gay marriages weren’t, at the time, recognized in Iowa was a pretty powerful anecdote.

Later, the law changed. And in a more recent incident, one of his mothers had an easy time being with his other mother in the emergency room. And it’s hard to see what the down side of that is.

It was five years ago as of April 3 that Iowa’s Supreme Court made history by ruling that, under the Iowa Constitution, denying gay couples the right to marry was not allowed. In the 2010 election, voters recalled some of the judges involved, and Republicans made more gains in the state House of Representatives.

Meanwhile, Zach had written a column for his high school paper in Iowa City, describing his experience growing up with two mothers. That column was reprinted by The Des Moines Register, so when hearings were to be held in the House on an amendment to reverse the Supreme Court’s ruling, a law firm invited Zach, by then a U of I student, to testify.

Zach says that, in good student fashion, he wrote a 3-minute speech the night before. Then, he drove, slowly due to an Iowa snow storm, to the state Capitol. As he delivered his speech to a legislative committee, he didn’t even notice an intern with flip camera recording a video of his speech.

The video was posted to YouTube and quickly went viral. Partly as a result, Zach wrote a memoir, a book used in many Mount Mercy University classes.

I have not read the book yet, but after hearing Zach speak April 2 at Mount Mercy University, I plan to. His is a powerfully story, well told, and I thoroughly enjoyed hearing him speak.

In particular, I liked his sense of humor in dealing with questions he says he often gets. One of those, he says, is “which of your moms is the man?” That, he notes, is like walking into a Chinese restaurant and asking: which of the chopsticks is a fork?

Watching this bright young man speak, I had several reactions. It made me proud to be an Iowan, to live in a state that is often willing to respect human rights more quickly than others have, a state that has a history of leading the national in civil rights issues. It also reminded me of the power of the written word—after all, it was a newspaper column that sparked Zach’s notoriety, even if it was a viral YouTube video that eventually got him on “The Daily Show.”

Zach Wahls during his speech.

Zach Wahls during his speech.

And I was pretty excited to see the turnout at Mount Mercy, where the Flaherty Community Room was packed.

My wife and I had a quick meal at a noodle restaurant, saw Zach’s speech and then went out for ice cream. It was one of our best date nights. Thanks, Zach, for giving us lots to think about and enjoy. A few more photos on Facebook. And below, the video that started it all.

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