Jesse Tyler Ferguson Is a Modern Classic

The Modern Family actor talks about growing up gay in New Mexico, setting a new standard for LGBT visibility on TV, and returning to Shakespeare in the Park.



Clockwise from top left: Ferguson with fiance Justin Mikita celebrating The Spring Collections of Tie the Knot; Speaking at the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act press conference in Chicago; with Eric Stonestreet on Modern Family; at the Vanity Fair Oscar party with Mikita. (Credits from top: Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images for Tie the Knot; Adrain Sanchez-Gonzalez/AFP/Getty Images; Timothy Hiatt/Getty Images; Courtesy ABC Television)

However, while Ferguson’s high-profile role on Modern Family is aiding LGBT progress in mainstream America, it has also afforded him the opportunity to meet the love of his life, lawyer Justin Mikita, who approached the actor after recognizing him at the gym. “We used to say we met through a mutual friend because meeting at the gym is so cliché,” he says. “But we’re owning it now. Justin said hello to me because he wanted to tell me he enjoyed Modern Family and he felt like it was doing really important things for the community and the cause. But I don’t think I heard any of that. I just realized he was incredibly cute, and so I started asking him questions about himself. Then slowly we continued conversing over the following months, became close, and started dating.”

Though many people in his profession are understandably cautious while navigating the world of dating in Hollywood, Ferguson says the advice of out actress Sara Gilbert helped him come to a realization. “She said, ‘It’s just as shallow to date someone because they’re really good-looking as it is to date someone because they’re famous.’ After a while that just wears off. Good looks only last for so long, and someone being famous for being on TV only lasts for so long. Eventually you’re going to get to the core of the person and realize if they’re who you want to be with. So if Justin saying hi to me the first time was only because I happened to be on a TV show, so be it. That was our in.”

Last September the couple announced their engagement while simultaneously launching Tie the Knot, which sells custom bow ties and donates all proceeds to various organizations fighting for marriage equality and LGBT civil rights in general.

Why bow ties? “They’re small, quirky, and a little off-center,” Ferguson explains. “And I feel like people who are advocates for marriage equality like the idea of being a little off-center, quirky, and bold.”

However, Ferguson fully credits his fiancé for the charity’s concept. “Justin came up with the idea,” he says. “I’ve definitely become more of an advocate, philanthropist, and do-gooder because of him. He has really ignited the civil rights passion within me.”

The couple began planning their wedding shortly before the U.S. Supreme Court began hearing arguments on the constitutionality of both Proposition 8, California’s voter-approved same-sex marriage ban, and the federal government’s Defense of Marriage Act. When asked if a decision to uphold either would affect their upcoming nuptials, Ferguson replies, “No. We’re getting married in New York, where it’s legal. I respect a lot of people who are waiting for those decisions to be made, but I also respect people who aren’t letting the government dictate when they get married. That’s where we’re coming from. We would’ve loved to have gotten married in California, which is where we reside, but unfortunately it’s not legal right now. We’re spending a lot of money on the wedding, and that’s money California is not getting. But congratulations to New York!”

Though Ferguson isn’t waiting for his home state’s ban on same-sex marriage to be lifted before he and Mikita officially tie the knot, he’s hopeful it’s a topic Modern Family will address in the future. “Modern Family takes place in California, and should Prop. 8 get overturned, I would love to see Mitchell and Cameron get married and celebrate that newfound freedom they have. Also, I’m excited to see what kind of wedding Cameron would plan, because I feel like he’d be the bridezilla of the two.”