Ten TV Shows That Helped Shape National Attitudes on Same-Sex Couples and Marriage Equality

Today, President Barack Obama became the first sitting US President to officially support marriage equality for same-sex couples. According to his own staff, the President’s position and thoughts on the subject have evolved over time to reach this point, and he’s not the only one.  As the newest polls demonstrate, the country on a whole continues to progressively evolve in its recognition of same-sex relationships, and as Vice President Joe Biden himself has admitted, television programs and popular culture can take quite a bit of the credit.

For many Americans, it was television shows that gave them their first images of same-sex couples, and a chance to recognize the commonalities with their own lives.  TV couples like Mitchell and Cam on Modern Family, of which President Obama has admitted to being a big fan, show audiences that the lives and relationships of LGBT people are just as complex, mundane, and important as those of straight people. 

Check out our list below, and add your own in the comments.


A good indicator of how far we’ve come was the controversy surrounding the 1989 show Thirtysomething after it depicted a male couple having a conversation in bed together.  Conservative activists were outraged, and convinced many of the show’s advertisers to pull their support.  Though it wasn’t as well received at the time, the show should definitely be credited with showing a same sex couple in a private but ordinary moment in what was a television first.  As the New York Times recently pointed out, a scene like that today would likely garner more controversy for what it didn’t show as opposed to what it did.

Ellen and The Ellen DeGeneres Show

There’s probably no single person who’s done more to advance the image of LGBT people in the media than Ellen DeGeneres.  She made history when she came out both in real life and on her sitcom, Ellen, which went on to depict her newly out character entering the dating world.   But when it comes to helping the public to better understand and accept same-sex couples, she may have made an even greater impact on her daytime talk show.  In regularly sharing quirky anecdotes about her life and relationship with her audience, Ellen has helped millions of viewers quickly recognize the common ground they share with couples like her and Portia De Rossi.  And when Ellen announced she and Portia were engaged to be married in California (pre-Prop 8), it was a celebration we were all too happy to share with her. Watch Ellen commend Obama for his support of marriage equality.


Not only did Roseanne Barr’s sitcom feature one of TV’s first same-sex kisses when she locked lips with Mariel Hemingway, but she also featured one of television’s first same-sex marriage ceremonies when her character helped plan the wedding of her boss Leon to his longtime partner Fred.  Though Roseanne ended up going a bit over the top with the wedding theme, the show made sure that the sentiment and love shared by Leon and Fred ultimately came through loud and clear.


Friends remains one of TV’s all-time greatest hits, and it made headlines when Ross and company got together to celebrate his ex-wife Carol’s wedding to her partner Susan.  And when Carol’s disapproving parents failed to show, he movingly stepped in to walk her down the aisle.

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Will & Grace

Following the eventual cancellation of Ellen, many thought a sitcom with two gay lead characters was a risk, but Will & Grace soon turned into a runaway hit.  In addition to producing some hilarious and classic comedy, the show also invited audiences to get to know its gay characters better nearly every week for eight seasons.  Vice President Joe Biden even recently credited the show with educating the public on LGBT issues including marriage equality.

All My Children

Daytime television and soap opera have their own set of firsts, and among them was the wedding of Bianca and Reese on long running soap All My Children in 2009.  The show made headlines when the daughter of main character Erica Kane came out, and she’s seen her fair share of melodrama since then, but remained a significant part of the show up until its cancellation last year.

Queer As Folk and The L Word

Though neither of these Showtime produced programs was heavily marketed to a mainstream audience, they each become big hits for the premium cable network that built on their initial viewer base.  In fact a surprising number of younger straight people still credit one or both of these programs with expanding their understanding of LGBT couples and relationships, and deserve a nod.

Brothers & Sisters

The ABC drama Brothers & Sisters featured one of TV’s longest running gay couples with Scotty and Kevin, who went from strangers to husbands and fathers over the course of five seasons.  In fact their story was one of the first to give extended consideration to the issues of adoption for same-sex couples, and often pointed out the difficulties they encountered by not having a legally recognized relationship.

Grey’s Anatomy

The Shonda Rhimes created series Grey’s Anatomy has seen its fair share of stories about same-sex couples over the years (as many of her shows do), but few of them got the happy ending that regular characters Callie and Arizona did when they finally got married.  Now also raising a child together, we’re excited to see what the show has in store for them next.

Modern Family

ABC has repeatedly proven its commitment to inclusivity through many of the shows listed here, as well as others like Desperate Housewives.  Modern Family continues this tradition through its hilarious, loving, and relatable depiction of a committed same-sex couple raising a child together.  When shows like this show the American public just how similar the relationships of LGBT people are to their own, it becomes that much clearer that same-sex couples deserve the same protections and chance to care for one another as all Americans.