Why the #ModernWedding matters

Tonight on ABC, two popular sitcom characters will, at long last, marry. And while the TV wedding is a familiar sight on the TV landscape, particularly as part of a season finale, this one will come with a bit more gravity than some of those prior ratings-grabbing "I dos."

Here's the teaser trailer:

It's easy to dismiss this as no big deal. For one, the viewing public has long accepted Mitchell and Cameron as a couple, making them among the most popular characters on TV's highest-rated scripted comedy.  Plus there have been other same-sex weddings in past TV shows. And of course there's the fact that, in an ideal world, the point about this being a wedding between two men would not even bear a special mention, much less distinction. That's all true.

But let's take the last point first. Our world is still less-than-ideal on the matter of marriage equality. Sweeping, historic, exciting change is playing out before us every day, but we still have some ways to go.  We are not truly free until we are all free and, as of now, the government still denies equality to far too many same-sex couples in far too many states. Not to mention, once we do achieve full equality, social conservatives have already vowed to turn this into a protracted fight along the lines of the four-decades-old debate over Roe v Wade. While we should celebrate all of our recent wins—and celebrate them big, because they are many—we must all remember that this conversation is far from over.  

As for there being other same-sex weddings on TV: yes, there have. Some have even taken place on high-rated primetime shows like Grey's Anatomy. What I find particularly interesting about the Mitch and Cam wedding is that it seems to be very much of our time. This is a couple who, judging by their comments over the years about not being able to marry, as well as lines at the beginning of the current season honoring the recent Supreme Court decisions on Prop 8 (they live in California) and DOMA, seem to have been fighting to get married for years. It's not like they have been waiting it out to make sure they feel right.  This wasn't some sort of sitcom battle with cold feet.  This same-sex couple, like so many same-sex couples, wanted to firm up their bond, obtain their rights, and protect their family. They were not able to—until this season. It's both a commentary on and celebration of our progress.

Which brings me to the point about complacency. Yes, TV viewers have honored these characters as a couple. Marriage is different. During the last presidential election, Ann Romney famously cited Modern Family as her favorite TV show, even while her husband was running on an anti-equality platform. This didn't really surprise me at the time, as hypocritical as it was, because the fact is that a lot of people do have a strange way of compartmentalizing what they see as acceptance of our lives from policies that truly do demonstrate full acceptance. Considering the size of Modern Family's viewing audience, it's guaranteed that there are many out there who laughed with this show, and these characters, on the same weeks that they went to polls, spoke before legislatures, attended rallies, donated money, or simply "liked" Facebook pages that are designed to take away the rights of real-life Mitch and Cams. The way the anti-equality movement has structured their side of the conversation (e.g. "protecting marriage" rather than denying rights), it's easy for opponents of our equality to bifurcate.

This wedding will force many of these viewers to reconcile. TV is a great connecter that can touch a human heart or open a mind in ways that other media has a harder time doing. All across America tonight, viewers who have honored this on-screen couple throw laughs, poignant smiles, and other emotional responses to a relatable portait of family life will have no choice but to consider what this, the logical next step for Mitch and Cam, really means for the characters, their daughter, their loved ones, and society as a whole. Those who have voted against us, those who are still sitting on the fence, those who have LGBT children of their own, and all others who have yet to come to a full understanding will feel their souls put on a search. "Why don't I support this?" "Why have I bought the lines that tell me this is evil?" "How does this harm me?" "What if my child is gay—what message am I sending him?" "Why is it my place to say that love, committed bonds, and family protections have a ceiling that only heterosexuality can crack?"  

And perhaps the most poignant question: "If I were a character in this episode's script, what would I look like as a nemesis who's fighting to stop these main characters from their major milestone?"