If it is difficult to find well-developed gay and lesbian characters on TV in the U.S., it's even more difficult to find them on TV in Spain. But one of the country's more popular television series features one the best lesbian couples ever seen on Spanish television–Maca (Patricia Vico), a pediatrician, and Esther (Fátima Baeza), the hospital's head nurse–who, later this season, will have the first same-sex wedding on Spanish television.
The long-running series Central Hospital (Hospital Central), now in its tenth season and aired by the channel Tele5, is a sort-of Spanish version of the popular American show ER, focusing on the life of a group of doctors in a hospital in Madrid.
Like ER, Central Hospital has managed to achieve popularity and ratings success, and the premiere of its new season in September has managed to beat all the others, obtaining a rating of 30.3% and averaging approximately 4.7 million viewers.
At the beginning of the eighth season, the show introduced Maca (Patricia Vico), a young pediatrician from Jerez, Spain, who had moved recently to Madrid after leaving her fiancé at the altar and revealing to her family that she is a lesbian. On her arrival to the hospital, she has a misunderstanding with Esther (Fátima Baeza), the chief of the nurses in the hospital, but they eventually become good friends when they have a cooking course together, and their relationship evolves from there into more than friendship.
Esther and Maca's relationship has faced some difficult tests, like Maca's depression and a terrible accident involving Esther, but the women's relationship continued to progress over the two seasons, resulting in their engagement at the end of the ninth season. They are now one of the more solid couples of the series, and despite facing more challenges this season (including problems with the family of one of them), everything seems to indicate that the wedding will move forward.
They have a sweet relationship based on love and respect, and in spite of the fact that they are always caught when kissing at work, most of the hospital staff is accepting of their relationship. For the most part, their coworkers are happy that the women are in love.
The Spanish media have devoted a great deal of coverage to the upcoming wedding, since it will be an unprecedented event in the history of Spanish television.
But even without a wedding, Esther and Maca's relationship marks a significant step forward for gay visibility in Spain. Most of the other gay couples on Spanish TV have been confined to shows airing only on cable, and the few that have appeared on series airing on free national channels have never been shown on primetime, and have mostly been saddled with poor storylines.
In contrast, the lesbian storyline on Central Hospital is aired nationally on primetime, and carried out in a very natural way. It is sometimes even possible to forget Esther and Maca are a lesbian couple, so similarly are they treated to the show's straight couples. As Patricia Vico, the actress who plays Maca, has explained, “We should consider this a love story between two women and nothing more, without branding them as lesbians or homosexual.” The way they have managed to develop and portray Esther and Maca's romance like any other love story, not specifically a "gay" love story, is a feat not many other series have achieved, in Spain or the U.S.
The timing of Spain's first same-sex wedding on TV isn't accidental: Spain legalized homosexual weddings earlier this year, a development Spain's population seem to be dealing with very well so far. "The series has evolved the same way society has", Mireia Acosta, executive producer of the show, has said about the couple.
Other Spanish TV shows seem to be evolving similarly. In the last year or two, there has been an increase in gay and lesbian characters across Spanish television, as series like Aqui No Hay Quien Viva and7 Vidas have begun to feature gay characters. But none have shown a gay wedding yet.
The combination of the popularity of Central Hospital among the Spanish television audience and a realistic and ground-breaking lesbian storyline makes this not only good TV, but an important development for lesbian visibility in Spain.