June 27, 2013

Things were different in 2008, the year Proposition 8 passed in California and limited the definition of marriage to a man and a woman. Back then there was no Glee, we didn’t know what a Modern Family was, and there was no Renly Baratheon on Game of Thrones (or an openly gay version of him in the George R. R. Martin novels). Back in 1996, when the Defense of Marriage Act passed, there were even fewer images of gay and lesbian characters in mainstream media and Batwoman had yet to come out of the closet. Now it’s 2013, and yesterday’s Supreme Court decisions about DOMA and Prop 8 have paved new roads for same-sex marriage–roads that were both measured by and shaped by the positive gay characters that began to emerge in mainstream media throughout the last several decades.

On the surface it may seem like too much of a logical jump to say that a person would change their views on a specific issue simply because a TV show endorsed it, but consider this: Back in 2008—clearly a big year for LGBT rights—the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation and a research team from Harris Interactive did a survey of more than 2,000 U.S. adults 18 and older and found that two in 10 of them had changed their views of gays and lesbians in the previous five years to a more favorable one.

Their reasons? Some said it was because they knew a gay person, some said news programs shifted their views, others noted that family or friends had persuaded them. Also, 34 percent said their views were influenced by seeing gay or lesbian characters on TV, and 29 percent said it was by a gay or lesbian character on film. Tinseltown has been streaming LGBT characters into American homes for decades, and even though they may not have directly influenced the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act and make a ruling essentially allowing gay marriage to resume in California, they’ve at least played a part. The arc of the moral universe may be long, and it bends towards the multiplex.