The long-awaited wedding of Cam and Mitchell of "Modern Family" arrives Wednesday, just days after the 10th anniversary of the first legal same-sex marriage in the U.S. The TV nuptials also come about a month before the first anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark rulings striking down the Defense of Marriage Act and clearing the way for same-sex marriage in Cam and Mitchell's home state of California.
But last we saw them, Cam and Mitchell were preoccupied less with dates than seconds as they rushed to salvage their intricately planned ceremony with wildfires threatening their walk down the aisle.
Last week's frantically funny episode set the stage for both a typical "Modern Family" comedy-of-errors laugh-fest and a milestone as the standout ABC sitcom caps its fifth season. The nuptials represent a major TV event – not only because of the same-sex marriage ceremony, but because we’re about to witness the wedding of two popular sitcom characters.
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Cam and Mitchell’s betrothal hasn't spurred near the hoopla Ellen DeGeneres did when she came out as lesbian in real life and on her ABC sitcom show 17 years ago, making the cover of Time magazine (Headline: “Yep, I’m Gay”). She made her big move a year after then-President Clinton signed DOMA into law.
Times have changed, socially, politically – and in the popular culture. When Vice President Biden unexpectedly spoke out in favor of same-sex marriage in 2012, he cited “Will & Grace” for helping alter public attitudes. Biden’s support has been credited with forcing President Obama to go public as a same-sex marriage backer during a presidential campaign in which “Modern Family” emerged as a favorite show in both the Obama and Romney households.
It’s impossible, of course, to measure the possible impact of a TV show on major societal change. But some might see a reflection of the times in their television screen: Same-sex marriage was legal in six states when “Modern Family” debuted in September 2009. With the addition of Oregon this week, that number is up to 18.
Over the past nearly five years, we’ve watched Cam and Mitchell raise a daughter and bumble along like any other sitcom parents. We’ve gotten to know them well: Cam, the outgoing farmboy with a theatrical flair (performance by Fizbo the Clown, anyone?), and Mitchell, the buttoned-up mildly neurotic attorney (“I just don’t find relaxing that relaxing,” he once said during on a family trip to Hawaii).
The only major flap their relationship stirred arose from a 2010 Facebook campaign demanding the characters kiss. But any lack of public affection appeared to stem from Mitchell’s uptightness, which was eventually addressed on the show.
Cam and Mitchell are two big personalities in an extended TV family full of them. Those personalities include Mitchell’s father, Jay Pritchett, and Cam’s dad, the recently introduced Merle Tucker. The two old-school patriarchs are struggling to accept their sons’ wedding. But credit the show’s creative team with making the characters’ unease less about intolerance than about two aging guys slowly coming to grips with a relatively fast-moving civil rights movement.
The dads, little doubt, will come around in the end on a show that expertly mixes love and laughter, without too much sappy residue.
Jere Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is also the author of "Raising a Beatle Baby: How John, Paul, George and Ringo Helped us Come Together as a Family." Follow him on Twitter.