Twenty-two years ago, the ABC show "thirtysomething" aired an episode which portrayed two gay secondary recurring characters in bed together, obviously post-coital. The two men never touched, never kissed, never spoke intimately about what they had been doing. Just two men lying in bed together. Religious groups went nuts at the idea. Letter-writing campaigns were launched, ads were pulled and ABC pulled the episode from the re-broadcast line up. It wasn't seen again until the series went into syndication on basic cable.
There was no public outcry about the episode before it aired. Following the broadcast, ABC received around 400 telephone calls with about 90% of them being negative. TV Guide in its "Cheers & Jeers" column gave the episode a "Jeer", saying that having the men have sex on the first date perpetuated negative stereotypes about the promiscuity of gay men. Five of the show's regular sponsors pulled out of the episode, costing the network approximately $1.5 million in advertising revenue. ABC removed the episode from the summer rerun schedule out of fear for additional losses. The controversy surrounding "Strangers" in the late 1980s, along with similar controversies relating to early 1990s episodes of such shows as Picket Fences ("Sugar & Spice") and Roseanne ("Don't Ask, Don't Tell"), led producers to refrain from presenting sexualization of their gay and lesbian characters. As noted by author Ron Becker,
"So viewers got to see Carol and Susan wed on Friends, but they didn't get to see them kiss. And fans of NYPD Blue could hear male hustlers talk about their johns, but the only sex they got to see involved the precinct's straight cops—naked butts and all. Clearly, chastity was the price gay characters paid for admission to prime-time television in the 1990s."
That was then, this is now
On Tuesday, Fox Television aired an episode of Glee where two gay regular characters kissed. And went back for more. And look...not even a peep from Bill Donohue. Well, that's not completely true. Somebody did have issues with it. But overall, the kiss occurred without any outrage from the religious right.
Could it be that we've grown as a society? It appears we have...and a recent poll shows that the GOP is far behind most of America on this:
More than half of Americans say it should be legal for gays and lesbians to marry, a first in nearly a decade of polls by ABC News and The Washington Post.This milestone result caps a dramatic, long-term shift in public attitudes. From a low of 32 percent in a 2004 survey of registered voters, support for gay marriage has grown to 53 percent today. Forty-four percent are opposed, down 18 points from that 2004 survey.
The issue remains divisive; as many adults "strongly" oppose gay marriage as strongly support it, and opposition rises to more than 2-1 among Republicans and conservatives and 3-1 among evangelical white Protestants, a core conservative group. But opposition to gay marriage has weakened in these groups from its levels a few years ago, and support has grown sharply among others – notably, among Catholics, political moderates, people in their 30s and 40s and men. The results reflect a changing albeit still polarized climate.