Ever since Scott and Charlene were married, Neighbours fans have loved a wedding. (Pic: Neighbours)
Ever since Scott and Charlene were married, Neighbours fans have loved a wedding. (Pic: Neighbours)

The gay storyline changing Australian TV

IF I asked you what the most progressive program is on Australian television right now I doubt that your answer would be Neighbours - but it should be.

The Channel Eleven soapie screened the same-sex wedding of David Tanaka (played by Takaya Honda) and Aaron Brennan (Matt Wilson) last night.

Magda Szubanski, who was at the forefront of the push to make same-sex marriage legal in Australia features as marriage celebrant Jemima Davies-Smythe.

One of the winning features about the historic episode is that the nuptials don't take place in a swirl of controversy.

All of the characters on Ramsay Street happily accept that David and Aaron are in love and deserve all happiness.

David and Aaron's ceremony comes 31 years after Neighbours' most famed wedding of Scott (Jason Donovan) and Charlene (Kylie Minogue).

"Ever since the days of Scott and Charlene, Neighbours viewers have loved a wedding - and it is high time a gay couple had a chance of walking down the aisle," executive producer Jason Herbison has said.

"The passing of same sex marriage (in Australia) means that all our characters, gay or straight, have the chance to celebrate their love, as it should be."

When Szubanski was on set she told Honda and Wilson that the wedding episode would 'save lives'.

Magda Szubanski is set to act as the celebrant of Matt Wilson and Tayaka Honda’s wedding. (Pic: Neighbours)
Magda Szubanski is set to act as the celebrant of Matt Wilson and Tayaka Honda’s wedding. (Pic: Neighbours)

"Magda said there are people out there struggling with their identity and sexuality who don't have representation on screen and feel constantly mocked and ridiculed," Honda told me.

"They will see this moment and have hope."

The only other same sex ceremony in an Aussie drama that I can remember was in House Husbands in 2015 when Alex (Darren McMullen) proposed to Kane (Gyton Grantley).

At the time McMullen lashed the then-Abbott government for its lack of action on moving to legalise same sex marriage.

"What's really frustrating is that the majority of Australians would vote in favour of marriage equality," McMullen said.

He was proved right.

Honda, of Japanese heritage (his father is renowned gymnastics coach Kaz Honda) told me that the Neighbours wedding ticks another box too - it is proudly mixed-race.

"It is significant that this is interracial but it is not something that anyone has raised - but at another time (in the past) that would have been a huge deal," Honda said.

To my mind, Neighbours deserves more respect than it gets in the Aussie television community. It gets labelled a 'soapie' as a put-down.

But a look at last night's episode confirms the show has embraced the reality of modern Australia - inclusive in a way that shames most 'serious' television dramas.

It continues to the case that pretty much all of the dramas on the commercial networks are still too white and too straight.

Aaron and David’s love story is one we should all be barracking for. (Pic: supplied)
Aaron and David’s love story is one we should all be barracking for. (Pic: supplied)

Deborah Mailman on Offspring and The Bite Club is an exception.

Miranda Tapsell has broken through to play prominent indigenous characters on Love Child and Doctor Doctor - but knows there is more work to do.

"It is nice to be showing audiences that being blonde and blue-eyed isn't the only (standard) - women are beautiful for many different things," Tapsell told me.

It is still the case that if you want to get a true picture of the diversity of the Aussie population you need to watch local reality programs.

The most recent season of MasterChef Australia, won by Sashi Cheliah was an object lesson in the positive embrace of diversity. The Voice has a multicultural blend of talented singing contestants.

But shows like Neighbours have a special role in creating empathy, acceptance and understanding of others.

That is because viewers can get caught up in the events that confront characters. When David first appeared on Neighbours he was unsure of his sexuality.

"The beautiful thing for me was receiving messages from people who were able to find some strength in David coming out on screen," Honda says.

"I've worked really hard with Matt to foster an (on-screen) relationship that would have the audience barracking for us."

I hope audiences will be barracking for Neighbours too. Here is a show that is trying to lead the way on television for a better, more inclusive Australia. That has to be something to celebrate.