‘Six Feet Under’ Made TV History With First Portrayal of Gay Marriage

HBO is known for churning out critically acclaimed show after critically acclaimed show. In the early 2000s, one of their most well-reviewed shows was Six Feet Under.

The show had a lot going for it – great actors, crisp writing, and wonderful cinematography. It also had one relationship that helped break barriers on TV at the time. Let’s take a closer look at how Six Feet Under made TV history with a significant first. 

What was the plot of ‘Six Feet Under?’

Michael C. Hall at Showtime's celebration of 'Dexter.'
Michael C. Hall played Keith on HBO’s ‘Six Feet Under.’ | Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

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According to IMDB, Six Feet Under ran from 2001-2005. The show followed the fictional Fisher family as they operated a funeral home.

The series began with the family patriarch being unexpectedly killed. The two sons, Nate and David, then need to come together to support their mother. 

The show may not have had the cheeriest of subjects, but it actually found plenty of ways to blend comedy in with the drama. It was a great mixture of humor and melancholy.

It was known for its great writing and its three-dimensional, memorable characters. Two of those characters stood out as particularly noteworthy, in large part due to their unique relationship. 

Who were David and Keith on ‘Six Feet Under?’ 

The show was very much an ensemble with many great performances. One of the most dynamic and multi-textured relationships on the show was between the characters of David and Keith played by Michael C. Hall and Mathew St. Patrick, respectively. Hall later went on to star in the show Dexter.

Hall and St. Patrick portrayed a gay couple. According to an interview St. Patrick conducted with Entertainment Tonight, he took special care to make sure the characters were treated with respect: 

“I didn’t want to continue the perpetuation of gay characters that we’ve seen on television and in film…I know about stereotypes. I’m a black man and I live that life everyday. I just think — it wasn’t something I wanted to participate in.”

St. Patrick and Hall’s approach to the characters must have worked because the duo made up one of the show’s most compelling components. Certainly, the show was aided by the fact that it was on HBO.

Generally, HBO shows aren’t constrained in the same way that network and cable ones are (though those standards are always loosening). They had more leeway to depict the characters in a blunt and realistic way. 

The pairing stood out for more than just the two great actors in the roles, however. It stood out because it made TV history. 

How ‘Six Feet Under’ made TV history with the first portrayal of gay marriage

Vulture compiled a list of seven couples who bucked TV traditions, and one of those was David and Keith on Six Feet Under. What made the relationship resonate was how authentically it was portrayed.

They were by no means a perfect couple and had plenty of conflict with each other. The added element of them being an interracial couple also complicated things for them plenty. 

What made the relationship such an effective part of the show is that they were treated as real people. They weren’t punchlines or stereotypes. They didn’t adhere to any of the tropes included in many depictions of gay people and gay culture in earlier TV shows. They were simply two people in love who had a messy time trying to make their relationship work. 

David and Keith’s relationship broke ground not just for being the first gay marriage depicted on TV, but also because it was such a normal relationship. There was nothing outstanding about the two of them, really – which is what made the depiction so outstanding in its own way.