11 Worst (And Best!) Same-Sex Marriage Portrayals On TV, Because Gay Panic Was So Real In The '90s
It's been a long road to get here, but we've finally arrived. Now that s ame-sex marriage bans have been ruled unconstitutional , we can be proud to live in a country that is actively moving away from bigotry in its foundational institutions. It might not be a cure-all for hatred within society, but it certainly is a positive bound in the right direction, where protecting the sanctity of love and basic human rights overrides outdated, heteronormative standards. For most of us, acceptance of same-sex marriage has probably always been a no-brainer, so it's nice to have the law fall into stride.
When I started writing this post, I was looking for negative portrayals of gay marriage in television in order to show how far we've come. But what I found, overwhelmingly so, is that same-sex marriage hasn't been as much of an issue in pop culture as it has been in real life. Of course, fantasy portrayals aren't always perfect, but it's interesting to see how, even looking back to the '90s, representations of gay marriage on television aren't as problematic as we might have expected them to be. In fact, there are more modern portrayals, like those in Modern Family and Sex and the City, that misfire in their superficial "acceptance" of same-sex nuptials. Here are 11 of the best and worst representations of same-sex marriage in TV:
1. Seinfeld (1992)
In the episode "The Subway", Elaine is on her way to be "best man" at a lesbian wedding, but misses the nuptials because of train delays. The reaction of the older woman she meets on the subway to the same-sex union is probably fairly reflective of the times, but Elaine's own anxiety and need to assert that she herself is not, in fact, a lesbian can be read as problematic. The '90s were a time where there was a lot of hysteria amongst straight people of being branded homosexual, and Elaine's response immortalizes that perfect. Although "I hate men, but I'm not a lesbian," without the panic or homophobic context, is a brilliant line.
2. Roseanne (1996)
Roseanne's episode "December Bride" was pioneering in obliterating gay stereotypes, and was twenty years before its time. By pointing out exactly how ridiculous gay stereotypes are, the episode highlighted the misconceptions people have about gay men. In the most hilarious way possible, obviously. It's still one of the best commentaries on gay marriage in television for its forward-thinking perspective and clever use of comedy to force those holding superficial ideas of what "gay" means to account for their own beliefs.
3. Friends (1996)
Friends had a lot of homophobic jokes. I'm not going to sit here and pretend the gay panic of the '90s wasn't painfully present across the entire series. But one thing Friends managed to approach tastefully, and even positively, was the lesbian wedding of Susan and Carol. When Carol's parents refused to attend, Ross tenderly pointed out that no one would have stopped him from marrying her, and that her marriage to a woman was no different. The episode went to great lengths to emphasize how in love Carol and Susan were, and made that the focal point, rather than their sex. It also employed LGBTQ actors to play wedding guests (like Lea DeLaria, OITNB's Big Boo), and Newt Gingrich’s sister Candace, a gay rights activist, who was the officiant at the ceremony. The episode was viewed by 31.6 million when it aired, and is probably still the most iconic pop culture depiction of same-sex marriage.
4. Six Feet Under (2005)
SPOILERS AHEAD, so if you haven't watched (seriously though, what have you been doing with your life?), maybe skip to the next show!
David Fisher struggles with his sexuality and coming out to his family throughout Six Feet Under, and his relationship with his boyfriend Keith is complex and fraught because of it. When the tow finally marry in the show's finale montage, it's impossible to hold back the tears. Six Feet Under did a brilliant job of humanizing the gay couple, and painting them with many of the same problems and hand-ups faced by straight couples. So while David felt singled out and different for his sexuality, the underlying message of the show was that there really is no difference, and that there is no standard for "normal" when it comes to love, because love, no matter who it's with or what the setbacks are, is always a journey.
5. South Park (2005)
South Park leaves no stone unturned, and in the episode "Follow That Egg!" the provocative cartoon tackled gay marriage head on. When Mrs. Garrison opposes a ruling legalizing gay marriage (I feel like you just have to watch this one), to prove her point, she says that same-sex co-parenting teams wouldn't work, and pairs children of the same sex into teams to raise eggs for a class project. It's pretty insane, which is a testament to how insane anti-same-sex marriage proponents are. That's generally South Park's m.o. when dealing with social issues: using children to show how ridiculous adults are about their political and spiritual beliefs.
6. The Simpsons (2005)
Both Marge and Homer Simpson have had to deal with their homophobia over the course of The Simpsons, and the forces them to grow and accept, which is amazing considering overall "character development" generally isn't in the purview of cartoons that largely exist on an episode to episode basis. It's clear where the writers of The Simpsons stand on gay marriage, and they use their characters as proxies for the misinformed members of our actual society, leading them on a journey from trepidation to understanding using the animated denizens of Springfield. In "There's Something About Marriage", Marge comes to accept Patty being a lesbian in a moving marriage ceremony in which she stops her sister from accidentally marrying a man dressed as a woman. The episode was received warmly by the LGBTQ community, but not so by "conservatives" (read: people displaying gross homophobia).
7. Family Guy (2006)
You weren't expecting Family Guy to say anything useful, ever, were you? Weirdly enough, the cartoon (which I have never, ever found even remotely funny) had some really poignant thoughts on gay marriage, and came right out with them. In the episode, Brian (the dog) is a zealous advocate for gay marriage, much like Seth McFarlane (I know, shocking, right?), has been in reality.
8. All My Children (2009)
In All My Children, characters Reese and Bianca had the first same sex marriage to be portrayed on an American soap opera. For daytime TV, that's nothing less than groundbreaking. All My Children also had the first "coming out", first gay kiss, and obviously, the first same-sex proposal on day time TV. It's considered one of the best television depictions of same-sex marriage, and is a testament to the fact that those audiences we thought might not be "ready" most certainly deserve more credit than we give them. Reese and Bianca had real intimacy on screen, the same way a heterosexual couple would, which is more than we can say for more recent depictions of same-sex couples of television (more on that shortly).
9. Sex and the City 2 (2010)
Sure, the wedding is in the movie, but Sex and the City, from show to movie, always had troubling portrayals of gay men. For starters, the show treated them like accessories, and stereotyped them until they ceased to be humans with unique personalities and instead became charicatures of what women who envy Carrie Bradshaw (spew) expect gay men to be. Which is "fabulous" in the sense that they complete the daydream of being a crass, irresponsible, ridiculous and tacky fashionista who talks about nothing but blowjobs at brunch in Manhattan. Oh, and all gays love Liza Minelli, right? The gay wedding in the second movie just served to perpetuate these unhealthy stereotypes, and for a show that did so much for women claiming their sexuality on screen, it set back views on gay men by bounds.
10. Grey's Anatomy (2011)
Grey's Anatomy had its lesbian couple wed in a beautiful ceremony, juxtaposed with a straight wedding. It was a lovely reminder that marriage is about love, not gender or sexual orientation. While the wedding is a little melodramatic, what wedding isn't? Straight people are literally the worst when it comes to love, so same-sex couples deserve the right to be too.
11. Modern Family (2014)
I have so many problems with Mitch and Cam's relationship on Modern Family. I think the biggest problem is that people fall into the trap of thinking of them as a revolutionary depiction of a gay couple of TV, because they're on an Emmy Award winning prime time sitcom. And yet the in love pair never show each other affection, aside from one or two very formal kisses that can really only be described as pecks, and look more like the way I would kiss my grandmother than my boyfriend who just proposed.