In the showâ€™s tradition of equal-opportunity lampooning, the message is not all pro-gay. Irksome lesbian stereotypes abound, and Nelson the bully suggests they â€œlegalize gay funerals.â€ And naturally, Reverend Lovejoy shutters his church to the same-sex sinners. â€œNow go back to working behind the scenes in every facet of entertainment!â€ he admonishes.
Spotting a chance to make a buck, Homer becomes an ordained minister via the Internet, converts his garage into a chapel (â€œThe Church of Matri-moneyâ€), and proceeds to marry all the gay visitors in town. He gleefully begins each ceremony with the words, â€œQueerly belovedâ€¦â€
So which lovable Simpsons regular wants to get hitched? Itâ€™s not the obvious candidate, Smithers, the fey manservant whoâ€™s secretary for the Malibu Stacey doll fan club. And itâ€™s not Homerâ€™s pals Lenny and Carl, though Marge does remark that their attraction to each other is â€œsomething they need to work out for themselves.â€
Itâ€™s Patty Bouvier, Margeâ€™s chain-smoking, Homer-hating sister, who announces sheâ€™s gay and plans to marry a lover she met on a womenâ€™s pro golf tour. Marge is the only person whoâ€™s shocked. Apparently, the poster of the mannish Miss Hathaway (of The Beverly Hillbillies) in Pattyâ€™s childhood bedroom wasnâ€™t clue enough.
Although Marge gives lip service to the idea of codifying the highest form of love between two people, sheâ€™s clearly uncomfortable. â€œYou canâ€™t handle it when you sister finds love in the locker room,â€ snaps Patty, and sheâ€™s right; unfortunately, Patty discovers her locker-room lover Veronica is actually a man, and calls off the wedding. But Patty remains a lesbian, and as Marge so succinctly puts it, "just because you're a lesbian doesn't mean you're less of a bian."
So is this Simpsons episode scandalous? No more than many others that take on controversial socio-political topics. Sure, we witness Patty and her fiancee smooching on the couch, perhaps a nod to the girl-on-girl lip-locks on Showtimeâ€™s The L Word, and in a fantasy sequence we even see Homer in an extended kiss with himself (donâ€™t ask).
Itâ€™s refreshing to see a hit network TV show in prime time, watched by children and adults, serve up such a politically charged issue, FCC be damned. And there were no advertiser boycotts, no letter writing campaigns. Perhaps itâ€™s this willingness to take on current events with creativity that keeps the show fresh year after year.
And keep in mind, this is network TV, not late-night cable, where Comedy Centralâ€™s South Park has gloriously skewered homosexuality in several episodes (remember that brilliant spoof of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy last season?). Or that channelâ€™s thoroughly twisted new Drawn Together animated show, with its fabulously swishy video game warrior.
Of course, the producers of The Simpsons did make a concession to appease jittery parents and right-wingers. Before the program, there was one of those somber warnings in white type on a black backgroundâ€”the kind normally reserved for violence and foul languageâ€”cautioning viewers: â€œThis episode contains discussions of same-sex marriage. Parental discretion is advised.â€
Or was the announcement one of those crafty Simpsons sight gags thatâ€™s actually part of the program?