ER treats a lesbian couple normally

I admit that ER fell off my “must see” list when Abby left. Last night, though, I happened to watch it — and saw something remarkable. Well, remarkable in that it wasn’t remarkable. One of the storylines concerned a lesbian couple that was treated — are you sitting down? — like any other couple.

If you haven’t watched it yet and it’s on your TiVo, be wary of the spoilers ahead.

To be honest, I missed the significance of the portrayal last night because, sigh, one of the women was dying of cancer. But when reader FASTTCR mentioned it, I watched it again. And in the sheer normality of the couple, I saw the kind of commentary that made me love ER in the first place.

When the EMTs brought in Ellen (Helen Eigenberg), who had collapsed in the mall while waiting with her baby to see Santa, she murmured, “My wife.” Response? “We’ll call her.” No telling glances between the doctors, no hesitation, no double takes.

Once Nicole (played by one-time Life star Robin Weigert) arrived at the ER, she was taken immediately to Ellen’s bedside. No questioning of her right to be there; no worries about turning over the baby to her. (OK, baby Lola had on a cutesy reindeer costume, but straight women do that to their poor kids, too.)

Those things alone are food for our starvation for lesbians on network TV, but we got more, like this exchange between the couple and Dr. Banfield (Angela Bassett):

Nicole: A week before the [previous cancer] surgery, we flew to Boston and got married.
Ellen: We ran off like a couple of teenagers.
Dr. Banfield: That’s quite a leap of faith.
Ellen: It’s not hard when you have someone to hang on to.

In that extraordinary ordinary exchange, we get a little dig at the fact that the couple couldn’t get married in Chicago, where they live. Are you listening, Obama?

Impressed? Just wait. I won’t recount every gratifying bit of dialogue because it’s better in the context of the episode, but one more scene bears repeating.

Dr. Banfield has spent the season trying to recover from the loss of her son, frequently taking her grief out on her husband and coworkers. But last night, at the ER Christmas party, she shares a slow dance with her husband.

She tells him that she has been thinking about having a family, starting again. He looks in her eyes and says, “That’s a pretty big leap of faith.” She smiles and replies, “Not so hard when you’ve got someone to hold on to.”

Wait — isn’t same-sex marriage supposed to destroy the family? Behold, the power of a loving relationship, regardless of gender.

See the entire episode online at the NBC website. I’m thinking ER is still must-see TV after all.