Angeles, California) While the issue of same-sex marriage has
received its share of television news and talk show time, it
has been largely absent from TV series - until now. Showtime's
"Queer as Folk" charges into the debate in the season's
last two episodes, in which partners Michael and Ben (Hal Sparks
and Robert Gant) ponder marriage and decide it's right for them.
their joyful, legal Canadian wedding founders on the U.S. prohibition
against same-sex unions.
The scene in Sunday's episode (Monday
in Canada) in which Ben proposes is superficially mundane, with
familiar words of commitment and a ring. Whether the gesture
is seen as promising or unsettling is up to the viewer; those
involved in the show hope it's the former.
Novotny, you are the man I've been looking for all my life,"
college professor Ben Bruckner says. "I'm so very blessed
to have found you. Which is why I am asking you to do me the
honor of accepting my hand in marriage."
comic book creator who's usually an optimist, is unsettled and
shares his feelings with a friend, Brian (Gale Harold).
wasn't a story I told myself, the way straight kids did,"
Michael says. "That one day I'd meet that special person,
and we'd fall in love and have a big wedding. For me, it was
When cynical Brian derides the idea of
gays needing marriage or society's blessing, Michael protests:
"It's also our God-given right to have everything straight
people have. Because we're as much human beings as they are."
a writer. Rewrite the story," Brian replies.
producers Ron Cowen and Daniel Lipman are eager to do some revision
of their own on attitudes toward gay marriage in America, especially
as the stakes rise with proposal of a constitutional ban.
created the story for this Sunday's episode (along with Shawn
Postoff, who wrote the teleplay) and wrote the July 18 finale
in which Michael poignantly questions whether his Canadian marriage,
discounted back home in Pittsburgh, meant anything.
Macias, national entertainment media director for the Gay &
Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, GLAAD, previewed the episodes.
thought they dealt with the issue very well, in a way that people
watching the show can relate to, straight or gay," said
Macias. "`Queer as Folk' has always been groundbreaking
and they continue in that tradition."
view of marriage as unattainable reflects real-life gay attitudes,
Lipman said. But that's changing with explosive developments
such as the Massachusetts court ruling allowing same-sex marriage.
of a sudden someone says, `Yes, this could be part of your history.'
... It really is a profound thing for gay people," Lipman
Added Cowen: "All these very large social, political,
religious issues ultimately boil down to the lives of two people
who want to get married. I just can't get it into my head that
two people wanting to get married, two people wanting to say
`I do,' could threaten a country."
Cowen and Lipman,
longtime personal and professional partners, have challenged
society's attitudes before, most notably in the breakthrough
1985 TV film "An Early Frost," about AIDS.
creative freedom that the pair have on pay-cable channel Showtime
to write about homosexuality and hot-button issues such as gay
marriage was nonexistent then.
Instead, they had to pick
their way through broadcast network apprehension and timidity
in writing the movie, which starred Aidan Quinn as a young man
who discloses his illness and homosexuality to family and friends.
"had us do about 14 drafts of that script. It took about
a year and a half before it finally made it on the air, and
no one thought it would," Cowen said, who credits the network
for airing it.
He easily summoned memories about script negotiations
with NBC's standards and practices department that reveal just
how much television, if not always attitudes, have changed.
one scene, Quinn's character brought his boyfriend home to meet
his grandmother, played by veteran actress Sylvia Sidney. "I
like your friend," the grandmom was to say.
network said the line was out," Cowen recounted. "We
said, `What in the world is wrong with that?'" NBC's response:
"She's the matriarch of the family and what she's saying
Objections were raised to another
scene in which Sidney's character was to give her grandson a
kiss; the network feared it would encourage behavior that could
"So we called the Centers for Disease Control
in Atlanta and they said it's extremely important that people
see that kiss because AIDS is not transmittable that way,"
Sidney herself weighed in. "I kiss the kid
or I walk," she told the network. Under the weight of medical
evidence, NBC acquiesced.
Oddly, the network was unconcerned
about an AIDS-stricken character, very flamboyant and prone
to outrageous statements. Asked why, network officials offered
an outrageous statement of their own, Cowen said: "They
said, `It's OK for him because he dies.'"
caution and not dramatic eloquence as the guiding principle,
the pair managed to write an affecting, important film. Although
a show on a cable channel doesn't draw the audience of one on
a network, Cowen and Lipman believe "Queer as Folk"
can influence the debate.
GLAAD's Macias notes that a network
series prepared to address the subject of gay marriage, ABC's
Boston-set sitcom "It's All Relative," was canceled.
It's unlikely the issue will be part of another broadcast show:
None deal regularly with a same-sex couple's relationship, he