Tonight, at 9 p.m., nestled in between dinner time and bedtime, ABC Family will air the first gay TV wedding since the demise of the Defense of Marriage Act.
The Fosters, where the wedding will occur, is your typical family drama. Produced by Jennifer Lopez (yes, that Jennifer Lopez), this new series follows a couple raising one biological child (David Lambert) and a pair of adopted twins (Jake T. Austin and Cierra Ramirez). Another sibling duo (Maia Mitchell and Hayden Byerly) join the multicultural household in the first episode, after they're abandoned by their foster parents. The usual shenanigans ensue. The kids experiment with sex, experience heartbreak, and deal with identity crises. So what sets this series apart from everything else on primetime? This couple is made up of two moms, Stef and Lena (played by Teri Polo and Sherri Shaum, respectively). And they're finally getting married tonight.
Save for One Million Moms, no one's really talking about The Fosters, at least not on the level TV viewers and critics debate Modern Family or Girls. Why is that? Perhaps it's because, at the end of the day, it's just a solid TV show. And to kids like me, it's a comforting sign that being gay isn't shocking anymore.
The summer’s top new cable TV show in viewers 12-34 (1.3 million) and females 12-34 (1.1 million), The Fosters is about a family headed by a pair of matriarchs, and it airs on a family network run by the godfather of family programming, Disney. Yet, save for One Million Moms, no one's really talking about the show, at least not on the level TV viewers and critics debate Modern Family or Girls. Why is that? Perhaps it's because, at the end of the day, it's just a solid TV show. And to kids like me, it's a comforting sign that being gay isn't shocking anymore.
As a relatively sheltered teenage girl, movies and TV provided the outline for my life. I looked to them to alert me to any significant life experiences headed my way. They taught me to anticipate certain people—the boy I'd known since kindergarten who I'd eventually fall in love with; the rebellious new transfer student who'd make me feel cool; the jock who'd somehow give a wallflower like me the time of day. I checked these off one by one as I met them, but nothing stuck.
I remember being 14 and seeing the sweeps week ad for The O.C.'s big lesbian episode, entitled "The Accomplice." That sneak peek put a stop to my homework. It was the one that had a slo-mo teaser of Marissa Cooper (Mischa Barton) intertwining her fingers with recurring character Alex Kelly (Olivia Wilde). Thursday couldn't come fast enough.
I latched onto the storyline. Hell, I latched onto anything that would justify how I felt, which, at 14, was too taboo to even speak about. By then, the only experience I'd had with lesbian couples on screen was the short-lived Jessie/Katie (Evan Rachel Wood and Mischa Barton) romance on Once and Again—canceled not long after—and the episodes of The L Word I could sneak in. Though that show depicted two lesbian moms, the problem with The L Word was that gay and bisexual women still seemed to live in their own world, exclusive from heterosexuals. It was a world that, being a suburban teen raised in a conservative Catholic family, I couldn't fathom.
Like most homosexual romances on screen, Alex and Marissa split, and in the episode following their breakup, Marissa referred to Alex only in passing and as her "friend." It was back to waiting for the next lesbian romance a primetime teen show would use for a sexy ratings boost. Degrassi: The Next Generation and the 90210 reboot did just that.
Nowadays, we've got shows like The New Normal, Glee, and Modern Family depicting gay families on network television. But no family network had explored the idea of two lesbian moms. At least none that I'd encountered until The Fosters.
What makes The Fosters so worthy of discussion is that it doesn't make a big deal of homosexuality. It doesn't turn it into a gimmick and the butt of all jokes the way The New Normal does. It's such a part of the The Fosters' identity that the fact that the family is headed by two lesbian moms doesn't cross your mind until episodes like "Quinceañera," in which their adopted daughter asks to dance with an uncle rather than one of the moms during her 15th birthday celebration, brings struggles specific to their relationship to the forefront. As for the reason Stef and Lena have put off marriage for so long? Lena's been reluctant to let a piece of paper represent their commitment.
One look at the show's opening credits—actors' names sprawled across the images of a typical family home, complete with pancakes, a growth chart, dirty dishes, framed photos—and the message is clear: There is no difference between the struggles of a heterosexual family and homosexual family.
I can only imagine a 14-year-old like me encountering this show today, and taking a sigh of relief. Finally, she'd have something to acknowledge that her feelings didn't come with an expiration date, that the typical American dream, with the minivan and the dog and the loving marriage, was a possibility for someone like her.
Written by Tara Aquino (@t_akino)
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