July 31, 2013 at 8:02 AM ET
On the historic day this summer that Paul Katami and Jeff Zarrillo were married in Los Angeles and Kristin Perry and Sandy Stier exchanged vows in San Francisco, a similar wedding took place in the backyard of a house in Long Beach, Calif.
The third nuptials belonged to fictional characters Stef Foster and Lena Adams of “The Fosters”—TV’s first gay characters to say “I do” since the Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act. The ABC Family drama’s creators, Bradley Bredeweg and Peter Paige, credit “universal synergy” with the impeccable timing of the filming of the garden ceremony on June 28, the same day two of the couples challenging Prop 8 in California (which bans gay marriage) became legally wed.
The wedding is part of the show’s first season finale, which airs on Aug. 5.
“I will never forget that day when Peter and I were sitting behind the monitors in our directors’ chairs, just looking at the wedding on screen and looking at each other realizing what happened here on this day,” Bredeweg said. “There were tears, there were hands being held. It was just quite a celebration of the show, of what was happening historically for gay and lesbian couples. It was beautiful.”
Stef and Lena's is certainly not the first same-sex marriage on television. Although NBC's "Friends" received a lot of kudos for its lesbian wedding in 1996, two other sitcoms had already broken that ground. The first show to feature a gay wedding was Fox's "Roc" which showed a ceremony between two men; "Roseanne" followed suit in 1995.
In anticipation of the Supreme Court ruling in June, the script for "The Fosters" finale called for a wedding — no matter what the higher court decided, said Paige, who is best known for his role on Showtime's “Queer as Folk," which also featured two gay weddings. But it was “an incredible moment,” Paige said, to shoot Stef’s (Teri Polo) and Lena’s (Sherri Saum) wedding within the context of real marriages taking place in the state for the first time in five years.
“From our earliest conversations, we were going to have a wedding,” Paige said. “We thought if Prop 8 goes the way of the Fosters, it would be fantastic to be the first legal wedding in California on television after the decision. If it doesn't go our way, then it’s an opportunity to make a statement that no matter what anybody says we won’t be bowed.”
But that’s not the only statement “The Fosters” is making. The family drama also stands out in the TV landscape as the first show to depict foster care from the point of view of the parents, the children already living in the house and the new ones joining the family. Stef and Lena are raising Stef’s biological son from a previous marriage, two Latino children they fostered and later adopted; and two new siblings they have taken into their home.
With other shows, like "Modern Family" and "The New Normal," paving the way in terms of portraying gay parenting, Bredeweg and Paige decided their non-traditional family would be headed by a lesbian couple instead of two gay men. They chose to set it in the world of foster care after Paige participated in federally funded study about LGBT youth in foster care.
“It’s sort of amazing to me that it hasn’t been done,” Paige said, who sits on the board of the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center. “Being a kid is so difficult but being a kid who is completely unmoored, I don’t know how you survive. Certainly, it’s been done before as far as having foster kids as characters, but it’s always backstory. I don’t think we’ve ever truly explored in the moment what it’s like to be a foster child. Usually, the foster kid in Hollywood is the bad seed. We’ve just been so moved and impassioned by what we’ve heard from these foster kids, that it has to be told.”
Executive producer Joanna Johnson, a white lesbian mother with a Latino wife and two adopted biracial children, runs the show and mines her life for story ideas. It seems to be working. With 2.5 million total viewers, “The Fosters” is summer’s top cable series among 12-to-34-year-olds. (The network's core demographic is 14-34). It’s also shaping up as the network’s fourth highest-rated series of all time. The show will return in January with new episodes, ABC Family announced on Tuesday.
“When we go online and we read the tweets and we listen to the way kids are responding to the show and their parents are responding to the show, they’ve just embraced the family more than we ever expected,” Bredeweg said. “Yes, we have two women standing at the front of our household, but we’re dealing with the exact same issues like any other family in America or most of the world. People are accessing our family just as their family. For us, it’s such a joy to see that happening.”
That sense of satisfaction will increase exponentially when the wedding episode airs, said the show’s creators who are both gay. “When I was 15, the age of what probably makes up the bulk of our viewing audience, I didn’t believe there was any possibility — it didn’t even enter my frame of reference — that one day I would be able to get married,” Paige said. “For me, it was a profound healing moment.”
Bredeweg got married in Los Angeles before Prop 8 passed five years ago.
“I had a backyard wedding much like Lena and Stef amongst friends and family, and it was one of the most important days so far in my life,” he said. “To sit there with Peter next to me and watch this happen and to know we can all do this again, it was such a real thing. It was hard to wrap our head around at first. But then it just became a celebration because, to me, it was a day that we never thought would come so quickly and now that it’s here, it was overwhelming.”