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When a headline proposal works, sort of

<p><strong>Courtesy of Zach Wahls &amp; Chloe Angyal</strong></p>

Courtesy of Zach Wahls & Chloe Angyal

If Zach Wahls GS ’18 hadn’t gotten out of babysitting duty and Chloe Angyal ’09 hadn’t been assigned to blogging duty a few days later, they wouldn’t have been meeting with a wedding planner moments before their interview with The Daily Princetonian ten years later. 

These small changes set in motion a story fit for a rom-com. This story, however, doesn’t exactly begin with the couple’s love for each other, but rather with Zach’s defense of his family — of his two moms’ love.

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On Jan. 31, 2011, Zach was able to get out of babysitting duty so he could address the Iowa House Judiciary Committee.

Iowa had become only the third state in the nation to legalize same-sex marriage in 2009 with an Iowa Supreme Court ruling. Then, the 2010 elections saw Republicans retake the majority in the House. Less than a month after this new Republican majority convened, a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage in the state was up for debate in the judiciary committee.

Zach, then a sophomore at the University of Iowa, was there to push back and speak to his experience being raised by his moms, Terry Wahls and Jackie Reger.

Zach told the ‘Prince’ that his family has faced a lot of challenges. For one, there were the struggles of “having a non-traditional family structure” despite living in a “liberal college community like Iowa City.” Chloe added that “[although] there was a fair bit of normalization of LGBTQ identities” at that point in time, the same acceptance had not yet been extended to LGBTQ+ families.

Additionally, Zach’s mom, Terry, had been diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, which left her in a wheelchair for multiple years. With all these factors shaping their lives, Zach noted that having his parents’ love and relationship recognized by the state of Iowa meant a lot to his whole family. A ring bearer at an earlier commitment ceremony, Zach was the best man when Jackie and Terry got married in 2009. 

Reflecting on the amendment to ban same-sex marriage, Zach said, “The fact that there was this group of [Republican] politicians that was coming for families like mine: it was really scary.” 

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“They clearly just did not think of us as being real families,” Zach added. “I gave that speech kind of near the beginning of a two hour debate basically. There was no rebuttal to that fundamental claim.”

So, Zach provided himself and his family as the rebuttal, saying: “I’m not so different from any of your children. My family really isn’t so different from yours. 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.”

According to Zach, he was only one of about fifty people speaking that Monday night. But it was his speech that just so happened to be recorded and then uploaded to YouTube by the Iowa House Democrats the following day. He remembers seeing the video begin to go viral that same Tuesday.

On Wednesday, it “exploded” across the internet. At that point, he had national attention, and calls poured in from the likes of “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” and “CBS This Morning.” And then on Thursday, he remembers seeing a funny headline on a feminist blog he liked: “Marry Me, Zach Wahls.”

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On Thursday, Feb. 3, 2011, Chloe was sitting about 1,000 miles away in her Long Island City apartment with three blog posts she needed to write that day. In her search for something to write about, she came across the video of Zach’s speech on social media. 

In retrospect, Chloe said that she couldn’t remember her actual, immediate response — only that she saw the video and, of course, wrote about it for “Feministing.” The actual post isn’t very long — only a couple hundred words plus a transcript of Zach’s speech. And, of course, a marriage proposal as the headline.

Chloe insisted the “Marry Me, Zach Wahls” headline was fully a joke.

Leaning into the camera during their Zoom interview with the ‘Prince,’ Zach joked: “Who’s laughing now, babe?"

“Who’s laughing now indeed,” Chloe said.

This exchange was followed with some teasing about who technically reached out first: Chloe with her headline or Zach with an email that Chloe recalls having “marriage proposal?” as its subject line. That email from Zach led to a follow-up interview for another article on “Feministing.” 

With no regular contact after that interview, the two didn’t meet until early 2013, when Zach was in New York City for an event. Chloe had received the event’s press release, and Zach described getting an email “completely out of the blue” from Chloe about his visit to the city. This email resulted in breakfast at a Cuban diner in Chelsea, though not much else since they were both seeing other people at the time.

It wasn’t until 2014 that work brought the two together again. According to Chloe, this work “became a friendship and then a flirtation” before it led to dating. As they started dating, Zach spent a summer interning at the White House, and Chloe finished her doctoral dissertation on rom-coms. 

Yes, sometimes life is a bit too on the nose in this way, but Chloe’s time spent studying these movies provided her with some perspective on the nascent relationship. Chloe recognized that she and Zach had an incredible story, like one out of the many movies she studied, but she was also aware that a cute story like theirs wasn’t enough. 

As Chloe recalls, the couple had to take some time to set their cinematic story aside so they could figure out if the relationship would actually work. Chloe said, “Good beginnings are great, but, you know, what really matters is what happens every day after that.”

What happened afterwards took the form of a long-distance relationship. Zach remained mostly in Iowa and later came to Princeton to study at the School of Public and International Affairs. Meanwhile, Chloe stayed in New York until she finally moved to Iowa, four and a half years after their relationship began.

Since then, Zach has returned to the Iowa statehouse, though now as a senator for the 37th Iowa Senate district. First elected in 2018, he took over as Senate minority leader earlier this year. Meanwhile, Chloe has continued working as a journalist — currently as a Contributing Editor for “Marie Claire” — while also writing a forthcoming book, “Turning Pointe,” which reckons with issues of race, gender, and class in American ballet.

And now, as they plan a wedding originally slated for last September but postponed until later this year, Chloe and Zach seem to look back on their story with laughter and joy. In their interview with the ‘Prince,’ Chloe recalled previously joking about getting a husband out of a feminist website, and Zach joked about missing out on the recent “how it started, how it’s going” meme because of their wedding’s postponement.

Along with the jokes was clearly a great appreciation for each other: As they provided the ‘Prince’ with basic biographical information, they each cut in to elaborate on each other’s accomplishments. 

And, of course, the two also appreciate the unlikely manner by which their lives first crossed paths.

“There are the moments where we just act without really thinking, and we look back in hindsight and see that was actually the pivot moment at which entire new universes of options became available to us simply because, you know, we made one small choice — wrote one small, dumb headline,” Chloe said.

Ten years after that headline, Chloe rewatched the video that inspired it. Her reaction was unchanged.

“I know the way he speaks now, and obviously I know how this very weird, great, cinematic story plays out in the years and months after the speech happens,” she said. "But it still gives me chills.”

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