The American Civil Liberties Union has a few notes for “Modern Family’s” upcoming fifth season.
The advocacy arm of the nonprofit has launched an online campaign urging the show’s producers to marry Cameron Tucker and Mitchell Pritchett, the gay couple who comprise one-third of the hit ABC sitcom’s Pritchett clan. Until now, the two have been living in unwedded sort-of bliss along with a daughter; gay marriage is not legal in California, where the characters live.
“Modern Family” has been, in its first four seasons, an unusual cultural flashpoint. Both Barack Obama and Mitt Romney have both claimed the show as a favorite, while Cameron and Mitchell, specifically, have been criticized by cultural observers for their relatively loveless union. Before the current ACLU campaign, there was an online petition asking the two characters to kiss on-air. An NPR critic described the pair as sharing a “hateful dynamic,” adding, “Surely, the show can find a way to let them occasionally just be nice to each other.” They don’t particularly seem like a pair ready to commit to one another further.
But the bickering pair is likely the highest-profile cohabitating gay couple in America at the moment (though one of the two actors is straight). They may well have the role in normalizing gay relationships that “Will & Grace’s” lovelorn Will Truman did for normalizing gay people in the early 2000s, at least according to Joe Biden; no one denies that sitcoms have the power to move the culture forward, from Bea Arthur’s abortion on “Maude” to the “Friends” friends’ embrace of premarital sex.
And “Modern Family” has moved the culture forward already: Cameron and Mitchell are already monogamous and raising a child! Looking at the optics, they’re as close to married as a same-sex couple can even be in the state of California. Pushing a couple who barely seem to like one another into marriage when they’re common-law spouses reads less as positive forward momentum and more as the sort of normative pressure that gay opponents of gay marriage push back against.
This petition, coming even as it does before the verdict in the Supreme Court cases pertaining to gay marriage, seems less like the ACLU’s usual defense of the powerless and more like the frivolous Internet meme-making that made the supposedly gay “Sesame Street” Muppets Bert and Ernie cause célèbres for a day in 2011.
If the ACLU wants to protest representation in the media, perhaps it can start with Cameron and Mitchell’s comrades who’ll never get the chance to wed on-air — the many, many gay characters whose shows were canceled this month, replaced by a very straight network slate for next season. Like an overzealous mother, the ACLU ought to focus its attentions away from when these two crazy kids will wed. It’ll happen or it won’t, but there are bigger problems on the tube.