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Thursday, November 7, 1996 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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John Voorhees

`Same-Sex Marriage' Special Provides Valuable Insights

Times Television Columnist

"For Better or Worse: Same-Sex Marriage," the documentary airing on ABC's "Turning Point" at 10 tonight on KOMO-TV, is surely the most sensitive and intelligent report on this controversial subject yet shown on TV.

Instead of rounding up the usual suspects - the Bible-thumpers and politicians who thunder about God's vengeance, alternating with gay activists who talk about rights - correspondent Elizabeth Vargas has simply chronicled the commitment ceremonies of several gay couples in the U.S., including one in Seattle.

Filmed over a period of time, we observe two lesbian couples and two homosexual couples as they plan their marriage ceremonies, letting viewers share in their problems and the joys. And it turns out that the problems and the joys they experience are just about the same as those of any couple deciding to get married - with the conspicuous absence, however, of a marriage license. Otherwise, gay marriages are just as hectic, just as expensive, just as thrilling and memorable to the participants as anybody else's marriage.

But in the process of putting us in the middle of these marriages, letting us see they're pretty much the same as all marriages, letting us get to know the participants whose reasons for wanting to get married are the same as everyone else's, this program goes a step further - and it's that step that makes this such a valuable and informative report.

In addition to those men and women getting married, Vargas interviews the family members involved, all of whom speak candidly about their reactions to the marriages as well as their feelings about participating in the ceremonies.

With one notable exception - the sister of one of the Seattle women - the other family members, be they children or parents, wind up being happy that a family member has found happiness with someone he or she loves and wants to celebrate the event in marriage.

There are many thoughtful and intelligent comments in this hour, but the best one comes in the closing moments when one woman says: "I think there's a lot of unfamiliarity. The issue of gay couples and gay families is a little bit new for a lot of people and I think that as they get to know us, there's going to be an increasing comfort level."

Film fare

What could have been just another mawkish affliction-of-the-week movie has been rescued by a good script and uncommonly good performances in CBS' "A Step Toward Tomorrow," at 9 p.m. Sunday on KSTW-TV.

Judith Light is wholly believable as a fiercely loving divorced mother trying desperately to find help for her younger son, paralyzed after a diving accident. She tracks down a doctor and a clinic she feels holds out hope - only to find her health insurance doesn't cover the expensive operation that is needed.

But that description is only the bare bones of "A Step Toward Tomorrow," which also has romance, humor and some mystery, as well, thanks to Tom Nursall and Harris Goldberg's solid script and Deborah Reinisch's sensitive direction.

In addition to Light, who has never been better, there's a terrific performance by Tim Redwine, as the injured boy's older, caring brother, and by Tom Irwin, who seems an unlikely hero but is all the more convincing because of it. Kendall Cunningham is fine as the injured boy and Brad Dourif and Alfre Woodard score points in smaller roles. There's even a special appearance by Christopher Reeve that is smoothly worked in as a part of the story.

The title makes "A Step Toward Tomorrow" sound hokey and contrived when nothing could be further from the truth.

The not-so `High Life'

HBO is launching a new sitcom at 10 p.m. Saturday - "The High Life," described as a "comedy noir" about life in the 1950s. Filmed in black and white, it looks as if it would like to whip up nostalgia for "The Honeymooners," but Mark Wilson and Robert Joy, the nebbishes who play the leading characters, are no Jackie Gleason or Art Carney.

Each week one of their money-making schemes backfires and it's supposed to be hilarious. The episodes I saw weren't even remotely amusing. In a context of HBO hits like "Arli$$," "Dream On" and "The Larry Sanders Show," "High Life" is a real loser.

Copyright (c) 1996 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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