***Warning*** This article contains mild spoilers about the first episode of Modern Family.
Network television has given us gay parents before. In the third season of Will & Grace, Jack MacFarland learned he was the father of a teenager while the 2003 sitcom It’s All Relative had Christopher Sieber and John Benjamin Hickey playing the adoptive parents of a grown daughter, just to name two examples.
But when ABC debuts Modern Family on Wednesday night, it will mark the first time a network show has featured two gay men raising an infant.
While the culture wars aren’t what they used to be, the issue of gay parents is still a fairly controversial one in America. Some states currently ban adoptions by gay people while groups such as Focus on the Family and numerous Republican politicians decry the idea of any children being gay raised by gays and lesbians. And don’t even bring up the idea of discussing gay families in U.S. schools unless you’re prepared for all out war in some quarters.
While Modern Family is unlikely to address any of these issues too directly or too pointedly, simply including a gay family as series regulars is groundbreaking. AfterElton.com recently chatted with the show’s two gay dads, Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Eric Stonestreet, about their roles, whether straight actors should play gay parts and much more.
AfterElton.com: Jesse, as a gay man yourself, does playing this part have any special significance for you or is it just another role?
Jesse Tyler Ferguson: It’s definitely not just another role. I was obviously drawn to it for very personal reasons. It’s interesting because when I read the script, the first thing I was drawn to was how brilliant the pilot was. The characters were really well developed and the whole story was so well told and so well executed. It was after shooting the pilot and then hearing the media respond in such a positive way that I stepped back and said this actually is very groundbreaking.
I’m sort of seeing that now and it’s incredibly exciting. I think anytime you can portray any gay couple on television, especially in such a positive light, I think it’s a wonderful thing. Especially given the social climate were in.
AE: Instead of asking the obvious question where Jesse tells me about his character and Eric tells me about his, I want each of you to tell me about the other’s characters.
JTF: Oh. Okay. You go first.
Eric Stonestreet: Don’t boss me around!
JTF: Okay. I’ll go first.
Both: There it is! [laughs]
JTF: Cameron is very effusive. He kind of wears his heart on his sleeve. He is very exuberant. And he’s very enthusiastic. He’s excited that we’ve brought this new life into the world, and he’s excited about being a dad. He wants to go big or not go at all.
ES: I would say Mitchell is the more reserved of the two of us. He’s more what some people would say is the responsible one, the disciplinarian, potentially, in the house. He’s the breadwinner, though I think Cameron has an interesting job before we pick up with these two.
Mitchell isn’t embarrassed that we’re a gay couple, but he doesn’t want to give people immediate ammunition of what a gay couple would be. Whereas Cameron would think, we are who we are, let’s take away the argument or whatever someone might say by being 100% who we are and dealing with society that way. Where Mitchell would say, "Let’s not draw attention to ourselves and do our own thing privately."
AE: What kind of parents are you each going to be? I know it’s early on…
JTF: I think what’s so interesting right now is just playing new parents, two nervous dads, and in a society where there are not a lot of gay couples raising kids. We’re definitely in a minority. My character is certainly nervous about his ability to be a dad, he’s questioning. Cameron’s more supportive and encouraging. We’re learning this together, and bringing different elements of being a dad together, and creating a great environment for this kid.
ES: I think what we bring to it is what any mother and father would bring to it: pure terror at first, like "Oh my God, what do we do when this happens?" Then on top of it, we bring in some of the characters’ stuff, which is "What do we do when this happens and how do we deal with the fact that we’re two dads." It’s a complex parenting skill because we don’t know if this has ever been done for this duration on television where two guys have had a baby.