Patrick (left) and Mr. Ratburn at their wedding — Photo: PBS Kids
Alabama Public Television is refusing to broadcast an episode of PBS Kids show Arthur because it contains a same-sex wedding.
The episode, “Mr. Ratburn and the Special Someone,” opened the long-running animated show’s 22nd season, and featured Arthur’s teacher Mr. Ratburn marrying his partner.
In the episode, Arthur and his friends discover that Mr. Ratburn is engaged and believe he will marry a woman who they think will make him unhappy.
The kids intend to disrupt the wedding to save Mr. Ratburn — and, thus, themselves in school — from a sad future, only to be surprised when he walks down the aisle with his partner, Patrick.
The episode was widely praised on social media, particularly the children’s’ positive reactions to their gay teacher, and Arthur creator Marc Brown told CBC News that the comments online “made me feel great that we were able to do something that was really helpful to so many people.”
“Art reflects life. Life reflects art,” he added. “And I think that kids need to see what’s happening in the world.”
Unless you’re a kid in Alabama, it seems. The episode, which debuted on May 13, was not shown in the state after Alabama Public Television objected to its content.
“It would be a violation of trust to broadcast the episode,” director of programming Mike McKenzie told NBC News.
He said that PBS had told stations in April notifying them of “possible viewer concerns about the content of the program.”
McKenzie and his colleagues watched the episode and opted to broadcast a rerun instead.
“Parents have trusted Alabama Public Television for more than 50 years to provide children’s programs that entertain, educate and inspire,” McKenzie said. “More importantly — although we strongly encourage parents to watch television with their children and talk about what they have learned afterwards — parents trust that their children can watch APT without their supervision. We also know that children who are younger than the ‘target’ audience for Arthur also watch the program.”
He argued that by broadcasting the episode, APT would remove the choice of parents who don’t want to allow their children to see a same-sex wedding — despite same-sex marriages being legal in the state since June 2015.
The episode also doesn’t use the word “gay” or make any reference to sexuality. It instead shows Mr. Ratburn and his partner as two normal people getting married (save for some laughably bad dancing during the reception).
“The vast majority of parents will not have heard about the content, whether they agree with it or not,” McKenzie said. “Because of this, we felt it would be a violation of trust to broadcast the episode.”
The station currently has no plans to broadcast the episode. It follows a similar decision in 2005 to pull an episode of Arthur spin-off Postcards From Buster, which featured lesbian moms in Vermont.
Alabama Public Television isn’t the only one to object to Arthur‘s attempt at inclusivity.
Anti-LGBTQ activist group One Million Moms has launched a petition deriding the episode and demanding that PBS pull it from broadcast.
One Million Moms, a product of the equally anti-LGBTQ American Family Association, distributed a pre-written letter to its members urging them to write in to PBS and ask them to “cancel this controversial content immediately.”
“I am outraged that PBS Kids would use their children’s network to promote same sex marriage,” the letter reads. “It is offensive to me and my family that the network would glorify the homosexual lifestyle.
“Until PBS Kids agrees to no longer air this episode or others with same sex couples, then conservative families including my own will have no choice but to discontinue watching PBS Kids Network, even avoiding previews, commercials, and reruns.
“You will not have my support as long as you continue to veer away from family-friendly entertainment.”
In a statement, One Million Moms claimed that 18,000 people had already signed the petition, and said that “discussion of such controversial topics and lifestyle choices should be left up to parents. PBS Kids should not introduce this to young children.”
It continued: “Just because an issue may be legal or because some are choosing a lifestyle doesn’t make it morally correct. PBS Kids should stick to entertaining and providing family-friendly programming, instead of pushing an agenda.”