The Same-Sex Kisses On TV That Broke New Ground

Photo: ABC Photo Archives/Getty Images.
In 1948, four television networks (NBC, CBS, ABC, and erstwhile Dumont) began broadcasting a full primetime lineup of fairly staid shows into American homes. The first Golden Age of television in the 1950s brought livelier programs like I Love Lucy, which paved the way for decades of situational comedies based on family drama and interpersonal relationships. Despite covering a broad swath of the human experience, it would take years for TV to finally reflect the fact that not all relationships are heterosexual. In 1972, That Certain Summer portrayed a divorced father (Hal Holbrook) hiding his relationship with a man (Martin Sheen) from his son. According to The New York Times, it’s considered “the first sympathetic depiction of gay people on television.”
Hot l Baltimore (1975) and Soap (1977-1981) also featured gay characters; however, they were never shown being intimate. It would take until 1991 for an NBC procedural to feature what was considered to be the first lesbian kiss on commercial network television. In response, some advertisers reportedly yanked their advertising, and NBC received 85 calls about the episode — more than half were negative. That was actually par for the course for L.A. Law; the series was known for breaking taboos. It prominently featured a character farting in another episode. It ran for eight seasons and won several Emmys for Outstanding Drama Series (probably not for the passing gas plotline).
Once L.A. Law showed two women kissing one another, other shows soon followed with their own gay storylines. These are the landmark TV kisses that crossed boundaries, sparked conversation, and broke new ground.
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L.A. Law (1991)

On February 7, 1991, self-described bisexual C.J. Lamb (Amanda Donohoe) kissed straight lawyer Abby Perkins (Michele Greene). Greene would later go on to say that the kiss was just a publicity stunt, part of the phenomenon known as the “lesbian kiss episode,” in which a character of little importance who’s rarely heard from again kisses another woman, usually for ratings. Producers insisted they scripted it because they wanted to add more depth to C.J.’s character, but the relationship never went anywhere after the kiss.
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Photo: Photofest.
Picket Fences (1993)

Kimberly Brock (Holly Marie Combs) and her best friend Lisa Fenn (Alexondra Lee) share a kiss while discussing their sexuality. After the network worried about sponsors pulling advertising from the show, they reshot the kiss in the dark.
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Roseanne (1994)

ABC wanted to pull an episode titled “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” in which Roseanne (Roseanne Barr) goes to a gay bar and gets kissed by Nancy (Mariel Hemingway). The network eventually aired the episode with a parental advisory beforehand, and it earned writers Stan Zimmerman and James Berg a Writers Guild of America a nomination for their work.
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Photo: Photofest.
The Real World (1994)

Pedro Zamora was the first HIV-positive openly gay man to appear on The Real World. He exchanged vows in a commitment ceremony with Sean Sasser in San Francisco.
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Relativity (1997)

The kiss between Rhonda Roth (Lisa Edelstein) and Suzanne (Kristin Dattilo) is considered groundbreaking because it’s the first between two lesbian characters, as opposed to a lesbian character and a bisexual or heterosexual character, and it doesn’t sensationalize the kiss (so no “lesbian kiss episode” stunt for sweeps here).
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Dawson’s Creek (2000)

Jack (Kerr Smith) and Ethan’s (Andy Kaufman) kiss is often referred to as the first “passionate” gay kiss on primetime television, and on a show aimed at teens at that. “We’re proud of what we did. We paved the way for the way things are today,” Smith told HuffPo when asked about the kiss in 2015.
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Buffy the Vampire Slayer (2001)

It took two seasons for Willow (Alyson Hannigan) and Tara (Amber Benson) to kiss, but their prolonged relationship was actually a first for television (showing an ongoing, committed gay relationship). Still, it could have come with more outward displays of intimacy.
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All My Children (2003)

Lena Kundera (Olga Sosnovska) and Bianca Montgomery (Eden Riegel) — a.k.a. “Lianca” — were the first same-sex couple to kiss on an American soap opera.
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Britney Spears, Madonna, & Christina Aguilera at the MTV VMAs (2003)

It was the stunt seen ‘round the world. Madonna laid one on Britney and then Christina during a performance at the 2003 VMAs. The camera cut away to Spears’ boyfriend at the time, Justin Timberlake, because of course we had to be reminded that she’s really dating a man and was just kissing Madonna for shock value. Times have hopefully changed.
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As the World Turns (2007)

Four years after Lianca locked lips, Luke (Van Hansis) and Noah (Jake Silbermann) became the first male same-sex couple to kiss on an American soap opera. The American Family Association called for a boycott of Procter & Gamble, which sponsored As the World Turns, when “Nuke” finally kissed again over a year later, after fans sent Hershey’s Kisses to the show’s production offices to campaign for another kiss. P&G stood behind the relationship, saying that it is a company that values diversity.
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Adam Lambert at the American Music Awards (2009)

Adam Lambert pulled a Madonna/Britney/Christina when he kissed a male dancer during a performance of “For Your Entertainment” at the 2009 AMAs. After ABC was flooded with more than 1,500 complaints, Lambert’s appearance on Good Morning America the following Wednesday was canceled. The Parents Television Council called Lambert’s performance “vulgar,” but was more concerned about the simulated oral sex than the same-sex kiss. Still, many argued that a double standard regarding the attitude towards same-sex male versus woman behavior was being demonstrated.
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The Fosters (2015)

Freeform’s groundbreaking show about a lesbian couple raising a family of biological, adopted, and foster children continued to push boundaries when 13-year-olds Connor (Gavin Macintosh) and Jude (Hayden Byerly) shared the youngest same-sex kiss on television.
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Star vs. the Forces of Evil (2017)

Disney (yes, that Disney) aired its first gay kiss in an episode of the Disney XD series where characters Star, Marco, and Jackie attend a concert where their favorite band’s music inspires people in the audience to kiss. We see various couples, including same-sex couples, kissing one another as the camera pans across the audience.