Dear Zach Wahls,
I, like the majority of America, first came to know of you when the video of you advocating on behalf of same-sex marriage before the Iowa House of Representatives went viral.
It was clear from watching that 3-minute speech that a young man so well-spoken, personable and handsome would have more than one brush with fame, and so it comes as no surprise that as a 20-year-old man you are once again in the news having written a book (with Bruce Littlefield) celebrating your two mothers, entitled, appropriately, My Two Moms. You have undoubtedly made numerous media appearances in support of this book, but the one that landed before my eyes was your interview on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.
I should say upfront, I have not read your book yet, though I plan to.
My reason for writing this letter is both to state my admiration while also voicing my concerns. Your speech before the Iowa HofR was inspirational, engaging and, most importantly, right. It is perhaps the greatest weakness in the so-called Sanctity of Marriage arsenal to claim that homosexual parents cannot hope to provide the same loving, supportive, neutering environment that heterosexual couples provide. As more and more states legalize same-sex marriage, there will be an increasing number of examples, such as your family, to undermine such arguments. Anyone espousing the view that gay couples cannot possibly raise healthy families will soon be left utterly adrift, hung out to dry by their own prejudices.
This is the good side of the publicity you are bringing to the debate.
Unfortunately, I foresee a dangerous trap in this line of argument.
For better or for worse, the strength of your message lies in your moral character. Your strength of character was what gave your initial speech such force, and it is, as I have gathered from your interview, the underlying premise of your book. I don’t know you personally, Mr. Wahls, nor do the vast majority of the millions who saw your video or will read your book. Your integrity is a matter of faith, and for most of us, even those who oppose your view, we are willing to accept it on your word.
But there will be people who want to see you fall. There are those who cannot wait for the opportunity to exploit weakness, mistakes and missteps. Public figures are scrutinized all the time and for many, that incessant watchful eye is too much to bear. Celebrities crack, leaders stumble and public personas are dismantled, leaving the very real human underneath exposed. Most of the time, these people are famous for reasons that have nothing to do with their character, and yet we still collectively salivate when their failings are paraded before us.
It may be unfair, but you are now the unofficial case study for the moral character of all children raised by gay parents. Oversimplifying this subject in such a way is plainly detrimental to a legitimate discussion of same-sex marriage, which is exactly why people will want to do it. If they can make you the focal point of the topic and then find a way to unearth any character flaws or manufacture moments of weakness, they will have effectively stymied debate.
I do not mean to suggest that a conspiracy of enemies will rise up to bring you down. Quite the contrary, while there will be those in opposition to you who would gleefully watch your character denigrated, you are just as likely to find allies shoveling the dirt on your head if the opportunity presents itself. This has nothing to do with same-sex marriage. It’s just the sad state of human nature.
A cheated girlfriend (or boyfriend), a picture of you smoking pot at a party, a DUI or a public breakdown. Any of the normal mistakes that every person makes at least once in their 20s will serve as the overzealous cross for your crucifixion because you are now the poster child for Same-Sex Offspring.
It’s ridiculously unreasonable. No one has ever made heterosexuals prove that they can raise morally upstanding children before they get married. In fact, all of the absolute worst people throughout history have been the product of heterosexual pairings. No one would ever make the argument that Hitler or Stalin are arguments against hetero marriage (though, maybe they should).
Rightfully, you are not focusing on such hypocrisies and are making your arguments purely from positive examples of homosexual families. That may be your undoing.
I do not wish to imply that you have done anything wrong by stepping forward and presenting yourself as an example of a successful product of lesbian upbringing. There are people in this country who need to see such things before they will believe it. As preposterous as it is to expect homosexuals to prove they can be fit parents, we live in an environment where just such a thing must be done.
So, no, I am not chastising you for your methods. I wholeheartedly support you in your fight. Unfortunately, you have thrust yourself into a battle that on some levels cannot be won. Those people who insist homosexuals cannot form strong, healthy families are not arguing from a rational point of view, but rather they are appealing to bigotry, ignorance and fear. A thousand happy, healthy families will never erase their prejudice.
The best you can do is exactly what you and your family have been doing: Be happy, be healthy, love each other. Those people who sit on the fence, neither bigots nor enemies but still uncertain on the merits of same-sex marriage will finally be helped off the fence by seeing families like yours. Alternatively, those people arguing that same-sex couples cannot raise healthy children will likely never be convinced. They will sit in wait, anticipating the day that you succumb to your humanity.
The LGBT Community and its allies, such as I, support you Zach Wahls and all your endeavors, not because you are the son of lesbians, or an unofficial spokesperson for same-sex marriage, but because equality for all is something all decent, moral people want to see. The kind of decent, moral people who are the product of good parenting,whether gay or straight.
Best of luck.