In another sign of Democrats' growing embrace of gay-rights issues, an Iowa man who gained national attention for his story of growing up with lesbian mothers was to address the party's national convention Thursday.
Zach Wahls became a bit of an Internet star last year after testifying against a proposed same-sex marriage ban before members of the Iowa House of Representatives. A video of his statement went viral online, garnering millions of views.
"My family isn't really so different from yours," the University of Iowa engineering student told lawmakers at the time. "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 we can enjoy the good ones. It comes from the love that binds us. That's what makes a family."
Wahls' mothers were married in 2009 after a decision by the Iowa Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage. Wahls, 21, withdrew from the University of Iowa last fall to focus on activism, but he says he's planning to return to school part-time in the spring.
In an interview with Iowa Public Radio, Wahls said he had been asked to speak at the convention Thursday evening. Wahl said he would use his speech to send the message that kids who grow up in families like his turn out just fine.
"I think the other side would like to have Americans believe that there's something intrinsic in having a male and female parent — that's what kids need," Wahls said. "And I would respond that, no, what kids need is love, commitment and responsibility from their parent or parents."
Wahls is the author of the book My Two Moms: Lessons of Love, Strength, and What Makes a Family.
It's been a big year for gay rights and the Democratic Party. The convention, which included a meeting of the Democrats' lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender caucus, has seen a record number of LGBT delegates, several gay speakers, and a new plank in the party platform supporting same-sex marriage.
President Obama announced his support for same-sex marriage in May. That followed the repeal of the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy last year.
Several convention speakers have alluded to gay rights, including first lady Michelle Obama, who said her husband "knows the American dream because he's lived it. And he wants everyone in this country to have that same opportunity, no matter who we are, or where we're from, or what we look like, or who we love."
What's happening in the party is a reflection of what's happening in the larger society, with a growing acceptance of same-sex marriage, said Drake University political scientist Rachel Caufield.
"As that evolution has happened, gay marriage has become more accepted by the American people," said Caufield. "And the Democratic Party sees that and says, 'This has been a core constituency of ours; it's now an issue where, as a party, we can not only speak to our base, but we can take a position that is growing in popularity.' ... And so they're putting it front and center at the convention."
Some gay Republican groups have said the president's action was too little, too late and accused him of using gay rights to garner votes.
Wahls said he's not upset with the president for waiting until the fourth year of his presidency to support same-sex marriage.
"He went through a very personal and very public evolution on this issue," said Wahls. "Obviously, as a person of deep religious faith, he has his own challenges that were part of that evolution. But at the end of the day, I think at the end of the day he did what he knew was right."
Wahls added: "As somebody who's directly impacted by that, it was a beautiful day when I got to call my moms and tell them that President Obama supported their marriage."
(Note: This post was updated at 4 p.m. ET with confirmation of convention speaker schedule)
Sarah McCammon reports for Iowa Public Radio.
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