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Throwback Thursday: Before DOMA, who threw TV's first gay wedding?

Posted by Scott Kearnan  June 27, 2013 11:47 AM

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"Throwback Thursday." It's all over Twitter and Facebook: a chance to dust off old Polaroids (or just run your digital photos through a vintage-y Instagram filter) and show off the Ghosts of Bad Hairstyles Past. Ok. I dig. So I thought, why not bring that concept to "Media Remix" each week? The entertainment world is littered with pop culture artifacts that give telling glimpses at "where we were" (as a culture, I mean) at any given time. Just like your old junior high snapshots are evidence of your "I'm angry at mom!" or "I'm angry at Society!" or "I'm soooo into the Smashing Pumpkins right now" phase. AH, THE MOMENTS THAT SHAPED US.

Yesterday's big headlines were about the Supreme Court's repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which means same-sex couples legally married in their home state will also have their relationship (and the legal entitlements associated with it) recognized by the federal government. The Supreme Court also dismissed a case relative to California's Prop 8, allowing same-sex marriage to resume in the Golden State. Shorter version: it's 2013, can we stop arguing about this?

But years before DOMA, TV was already reflecting evolving attitudes toward the issue. So, what prime-time show has the distinction of showing TV's first gay wedding? That would be the Fox sitcom Roc, with its episode "Can't Help Loving That Man" in October 1991.

Holy... That opening credits sequence looked like my every pair of parachute pants and package of sidewalk chalk exploded at once. Heart. I used to love this show, though I completely forgot it existed until right about now. In its Very Special Episode, titular everyman Roc (played by Charles S. Dutton) discovers his uncle is gay and partnered. After learning and growing, the family hosts a ceremony for the couple at their home. What shows came next?

In May 1994, Northern Exposure depicted a gay wedding between two bed & breakfast owners. (Yeah, I know.) And in its 1995 episode "December Bride," Roseanne helped plan a wedding for her gay boss, played by Martin Mull.

Oh, look, here it is!

Something worth pointing out: these earliest depictions of gay weddings on TV involved working-class, blue-collar families. Roc was a garbage collector. Northern Exposure was set worlds away from Manhattan. And Roseanne - well, you've seen Roseanne, right? Roc, the first of the three, also starred a predominantly African-American cast. Today, it seems like every same-sex wedding seen on TV or in a movie is a whitewashed ceremony of wealthy Power Gays officiated by Sarah Jessica Parker or something. Anna Wintour is probably sitting in the front row, right next to the ring bearer: a Shih Tzu wearing Gucci.

In a way, these older shows somehow feel more ahead of the curve. In fact, it's reality that hasn't caught up. Roc and Roseanne take place in Illinois. Northern Exposure is set in Alaska. Both these states are among the 37 states that still don't recognize marriage between same-sex couples; so ironically, more than 20 years later, these pioneering TV "couples" still couldn't marry IRL. The DOMA repeal was a big step forward for civil rights, but for many couples the reality is still not as-seen-on-TV.

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
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About this blog

Scott Kearnan (@thewritestuffSK) is a Boston-based writer, editor, and communications consultant focusing on lifestyle and Arts & Entertainment. He's also a part-time smart aleck and buffalo wing connoisseur. "Media Remix" is where couch potatoes meet pop culture criticism. More »

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