While TV dramas were a little slower to promote positive LGBT themes, sitcoms paved the way with gay characters and, yes, same-sex weddings. Sure, many TV series relied on gay stereotypes as punchlines — and some still do — but there are several notable examples of comedies that put forward the idea of marriage equality as something admirable and necessary.
It’s also worth noting the gap between the 1996 Ellen episode and the 2005 episode of The Simpsons. One possible explanation: In the early ’90s, same-sex marriage was still something of a novelty. Gay people could partner up and call it whatever they wanted, essentially. But as marriage equality became more and more political, sitcoms shied away from it — until, of course, they realized it was worth coming out in full support.
1. The Golden Girls, “Sister of the Bride”
Aired: Jan. 12, 1991
Blanche continues to struggle with her feelings about her brother Clayton’s sexuality. She’s even more shocked when he visits Miami and announces that he’s having a commitment ceremony with his longtime partner. While no one uses the term marriage, Sophia makes an astute point about marriage equality: “Everyone wants someone to grow old with. And shouldn’t everyone have that chance?”
2. Roc, “Can’t Help Loving That Man”
Aired: Oct. 20, 1991
Andrew’s younger brother Russell tells the family that he’s marrying his partner, who also happens to be white. While the men adjust to Russell’s announcement, Eleanor offers to hold the wedding at the Emerson home.
3. Roseanne, “December Bride”
Aired: Dec. 12, 1995
Roseanne plans a big gay wedding for Leon and Scott, which includes drag queens and male strippers. Conservative Leon is horrified and tries to leave the ceremony, briefly wondering if he’s even gay. At the end, Roseanne tones it down, and Leon and Scott get married.
4. Friends, “The One With the Lesbian Wedding”
Aired: Jan. 18, 1996
Ross’ ex-wife Carol marries Susan, the woman she left him for. When Carol’s parents disapprove and refuse to attend the wedding, Carol gets cold feet. Awkwardly enough, it’s Ross who has to convince her to go through with the marriage. The episode attracted mild controversy but not as much as had been expected.
5. Ellen, “Two Ring Circus”
Aired: Feb. 28 ,1996
Ellen’s friends Barrett and Peter have a commitment ceremony. This episode actually came before the famous “Puppy Episode,” in which Ellen came out of the closet.
6. The Simpsons, “There’s Something About Marrying”
Aired: Feb. 20, 2005
Homer becomes a minister and starts marrying all the gay couples being turned away by Rev. Lovejoy. Marge’s sister Patty comes out of the closet and tells everyone she’s marrying her girlfriend Veronica, which Marge can’t accept. It’s only after Veronica is revealed to be a man — and the wedding is called off — that Marge embraces Patty’s identity.
7. South Park, “Follow That Egg!”
Aired: Nov. 2, 2005
Mr. Garrison tries to reconcile with his ex Mr. Slave, but he finds out Mr. Slave is getting married to Big Gay Al, since Colorado has legalized gay marriage. Mr. Garrison begins a campaign against marriage equality, and it’s up to the students to prove the gay marriage should remain legal with a class project.
8. Family Guy, “You May Now Kiss the… Uh… Guy Who Receives”
Aired: April 30, 2006
Brian’s gay cousin Jasper comes to Quahog to marry his boyfriend Ricardo. The two major opponents: Mayor Adam West, who is trying to distract his constituents by banning gay marriage, and Lois, who is against marriage equality. At the time, Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane spoke out in favor of LGBT rights.
9. Parks and Recreation, “Pawnee Zoo”
Aired: Sept. 17, 2009
Leslie inadvertently stirs up controversy when she marries two male penguins at the Pawnee Zoo. Even though she didn’t intend for it to be a political gesture, Leslie is proclaimed a supporter of marriage equality. She ends up taking the penguins to Iowa, where gay marriage is legal.
10. The Cleveland Show, “Terry Unmarried”
Aired: Feb. 20, 2011
Cleveland learns that his best friend Terry is gay and in a relationship — and that Cleveland and his wife were never officially married. The four head to Vermont for a double wedding. While Cleveland is initially homophobic, he ends up being the one to convince Terry that he and Paul are soulmates. AfterElton.com said this episode was a better representation of LGBT people than had been seen on other Seth MacFarlane shows.
11. Happy Endings, “Four Weddings and a Funeral (Minus Three Weddings and One Funeral)”
Aired: April 4, 2012
Derrick (of Drama fame) is getting married to Eric, and Jane is planning the wedding. Meanwhile, she scrambles to find a way to tell Derrick that his expensive wedding is out of his price range.
12. The New Normal, “The Big Day”
Aired: April 2, 2013
In the series finale of The New Normal, Bryan and David tied the knot. They hustled to beat the birth of their child, ultimately failing. But it was still a touching conclusion to a show that, while flawed, was one of the most progressive sitcoms on TV.