Alabama Public Television refused to air an episode of the popular PBS KIDS children’s cartoon “Arthur” this month that featured a same-sex wedding between two male characters.
"Parents have trusted Alabama Public Television for more than 50 years to provide children's programs that entertain, educate and inspire,” APT Director Mike Mckenzie told AL.com.
“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."
The episode in question was the show’s 22nd season premiere and was titled “Mr. Ratburn and the Special Someone.” Airing on May 13, the episode made national headlines because it featured the main character’s third-grade teacher marrying a chocolatier named Patrick.
McKenzie said the station was notified by PBS about the episode in mid-April but APT opted to show a rerun instead. He added that APT has no plans to air the episode on a future date.
Responding to APT’s decision, PBS defended the episode by arguing in a statement provided to People magazine that it “is important to represent the wide array of adults in the lives of children who look to PBS KIDS every day.”
“PBS KIDS programs are designed to reflect the diversity of communities across the nation,” the statement reads.
“Arthur” creator Marc Brown asked People why the show’s teacher shouldn’t be allowed to marry a man.
“I don’t want children or people who are different to feel excluded,” Brown argued. “That’s not the kind of world we want to live in. And we want children to be educated so they can see there’s not just one type of family. Everyone should feel represented. I think we did that with Arthur.”
However, some say the “Arthur” episode takes advantage of parental trust.
Cathy Ruse, a senior fellow for legal studies at the Christian conservative advocacy organization Family Research Council, told The Christian Post that children’s entertainment is "no longer informed by a Judeo-Christian values system, but by left-wing political interest groups."
"Now more than ever, parents have to be vigilant about the media their children consume," Ruse, a Northern Virginia mother, warned. "Parents trust shows made for children, and the creators of the show are taking advantage of their trust.”
Prominent conservative evangelical leader Franklin Graham also blasted PBS, asking why the federal government-funded entity is “financing programming that promotes behavior the Bible says is sinful?”
"I sure don’t want my tax dollars going toward that,” Graham wrote on his Facebook page. “I think many viewers may be surprised and disappointed in this content decision.”
This is not the first time that PBS and the “Arthur” family have faced backlash for including gay couples in children’s television.
In 2005, the “Arthur” spinoff “Postcards from Buster” showed Buster visiting a home with lesbian mothers in an episode called “Sugartime!”
The “Postcards from Buster” episode also drew the ire of then-Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings, who forced PBS’ hand to withdraw the episode. She argued in a letter to then-PBS President Pat Mitchell that “many parents would not want their young children exposed to the life-styles portrayed in this episode.”
“[T]he cooperative agreement that PBS is using to support these programs is designed to prepare preschool and elementary age children for school,” she wrote.
“We believe the ‘Sugartime!’ episode does not come within these purposes or within the intent of Congress, and would undermine the overall objective of the Ready-To-Learn program — to produce programming that reaches as many children and families as possible.”