How The Supreme Court’s DOMA Decision Could Change Television, From ‘Modern Family’ To HBO’s ‘Open’


Yesterday, to celebrate the Supreme Court’s decision striking down the Defense of Marriage Act, I wrote that in the years since DOMA became law in 1996, pop culture proceeded to marry off gay couples anyway, providing examples of familial and even clerical support for same-sex couples in the absence of state recognition. But it seems like at least one television show is considering responding to the Court’s decision, and depicting a gay couple thinking about whether or not to get married in the wake of the DOMA decision. Modern Family‘s Mitch and Cam, a couple who in the past have been so touchy about the sexual part of their relationship that the show actually had to do an episode explaining their lack of displays of affection for each other, might be considering tying the knot.

“We’ve had a number of conversations,” Modern Family co-creator Christopher Lloyd told Entertainment Weekly. “As you can imagine in Cam and Mitchell’s life, they would be feeling that a door has opened that was closed to them. Wouldn’t it be pretty tempting to think about walking through it? We imagine a lot of gay couples today are deciding whether to get married now that it’s open to them. From our standpoint, that’s something to explore.”

If they’re smart, a number of the other gay-themed shows in development might follow those questions as well. Among them are a Jonathan Groff-starring dramedy at HBO that sounds like it’s going to be a gay riff on Girls about “three Bay Area friends enjoying what life has to offer a new generation of gay men,” which now includes the full legal recognition of their marriages in a way that wasn’t true for the characters on, say, Queer As Folk. It would be perceptive and interesting for the show to explore how the possibility of marriage has changed, and continues to change the way young gay men approach their relationships and flings, something Benoit Denizet-Lewis explored in a 2008 feature in the New York Times Magazine. And Wes Bentley is starring in the show Ryan Murphy is developing, also for HBO, Open, which is about human sexuality writ more broadly. That show, done right, could be a great opportunity to dig into the way marriage equality is starting a second generation of conversations about the future of marriage, something that’s showed up everywhere from Gawker’s exploration of married gay non-monogamy to The Atlantic‘s exploration of what straight couples can learn from gay ones about marriage equality.

We’ve already seen shows like FX’s Cold War drama The Americans bring marriage, which has been a strong subtext in the anti-hero shows of the last decade and a half, to the fore, treating the spy machinations of its main characters as if they’re important less for the information they garner than for the impact they have on the relationship between Phillip (Matthew Rhys) and Elizabeth Jennings (Keri Russell). If both network and HBO dramas find themselves drawn to marriage as a subject in the wake of the Supreme Court decision, the impact on pop culture could be more than a Very Special Wedding episode here and there. Maybe, in the twilight of the anti-heroes, we’re ready to dispense with the New Jersey mob, the Albuquerque meth business, and focus not on whether we’re willing to root for a bad person, but the question of what it takes to build a good marriage.