Antenna TV (you know, the station for old-timers who still read newspapers and use landline phones) recently ran a memorial tribute to Jean Stapleton, the actress known for her iconic portrayal of the much-loved "dingbat" Edith Bunker. The station aired legendary, ground breaking episodes centering on Edith that addressed then-taboo subjects such as menopause, homosexuality, sexual assault, and euthanasia.
The gay episode, "Cousin Liz," is famous enough to warrant a Wikipedia entry, and it's pretty much a given that the left-leaning Norman Lear may have been influenced by the Briggs initiative in California that would have banned gays and lesbians from the teaching profession (fought by Harvey Milk), as well as the Anita Bryant "Save Our Children" campaign.
Edith's cousin Liz, a schoolteacher, dies, and Edith, as her closest living blood relative, stands to inherit a valuable tea service. Archie in his usual churlish way wants to sell the set and use the money for a vacation to California. Liz's roommate Veronica (really life-partner, as she and Liz because of their jobs were obliged to live in the closet) feels a sentimental attachment to the tea set and asks Edith if she can keep it. In doing so, she feels she has to tell Edith the true nature of her relationship, as a marriage.
Edith, obviously not the smartest cookie, takes a while to process it (her voicings of "oh" are priceless here), but as the viewer comes to realize throughout the series, Edith may not be the most booksmart, but she displays time and time again the deeper wisdom of the human heart. She doesn't reject Liz at all, not because she is familiar with or even would subscribe to gay or women's liberation ideologies or any of the counter-cultural movements of the seventies. She pierces with the arrow of true Christian love to the living heart of the matter. Veronica is Liz's next of kin. Love transcends blood and ideology. Of course she can have the tea set. And how sad to love someone and not be able to tell anyone about it.
But of course she is up against Archie who threatens to sue Veronica. How often many have decried Edith with her "Awchie! Here's your beer" attitude as representing the worst of an oppressive patriarchal marriage. But Edith doesn't confuse humility with humiliation, forbearance with cringing, in the deepest parts of relationships. For example, in one episode, she revealed that she was ready to leave Archie with the infant Gloria unless he got help with his gambling addiction. And, similarly, in this case of Cousin Liz, she responds to Archie's typical stereotypical judgment with courage and wisdom:
Archie: People like that teaching our kids, I'm sure God's sittin' up there in judgment!
Edith: Well, sure he is, but he's God; you ain't! Archie, listen, you wouldn't want to be the cause of somebody losin' their job!
Edith: Archie, she's all alone in the world now and she's got no one to take care of her like I have. And she can't help how she feels. And she didn't hurt you, so why should you wanna hurt her? Archie, I can't believe you'd do anything that mean.
Archie, of course, defers with his unique "oh" response, but not before he admits that he doesn't understand how a beautiful woman like Veronica wouldn't want a man. Veronica graciously (having experienced the grace that came from Edith) accepts that typical foot-in-the-mouth remark as a compliment.
Edith the true Christian is so, so on target here. Yes, God is God, not man and what man thinks God should be loving or hating. And there's more going on here than just "Judge not, lest ye be judged." Edith has got to the root of the Golden Rule, of course, but even more than that, she understands, not because of any conscious analysis, that the holy haters who want to compartmentalize everyone by race, religion, gender, and orientation and set up unjust hierarchies who oppress the marginalized are the ones who try to make God in their own limited image.
Here, in this ground-breaking episode, the Jewish Norman Lear and his Christian character Edith Bunker embrace with love the heart of the Judeo-Christian ethic the current culture warriors against same-sex marriage use so wrongly as a weapon of ignorance and the scapegoat mechanism.