In the Season 22 premiere, beloved third-grade teacher Mr. Ratburn marries a chocolatier named Patrick. Alabama Public Television told AL.com that it aired a rerun of the animated show on May 13 in place of “Mr. Ratburn and the Special Someone.”
The station’s director of programming, Mike Mckenzie, told the news website that the show’s producers, PBS and WGBH, alerted them in April about the upcoming wedding episode.
“(A)lthough 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,” McKenzie told AL.com in an email. “We also know that children who are younger than the ‘target’ audience for Arthur also watch the program.”
Forty-six percent of Alabama residents identify as politically conservative, second only to Mississippi, according to a Gallup poll in 2018. Alabama also recently passed what is considered the nation’s strictest abortion law, banning the procedure in almost all cases.
Julie Thomas, director of marketing at the Arkansas Educational Television Network, told the Arkansas Times that, “in realizing that many parents may not have been aware of the topics of the episode beforehand, we made the decision not to air it.”
“Arthur,” a Canadian/American program aimed at kids ages 4 through 8, has been running for 22 seasons. In the wedding episode, anthropomorphic aardvark Arthur and his classmates initially think Mr. Ratburn is marrying a woman named Patty, until they find out Patty is Mr. Ratburn’s sister.
Then, Mr. Ratburn walks down the aisle, arm-in-arm with his soon-to-be-husband, Patrick, who winks at the camera. Arthur’s face lights up with a smile.
At the reception, Arthur exclaims, “Mr. Ratburn is married! I still can’t believe it!” His classmate Francine calls it “a brand-new world.” No one mentions that Mr. Ratburn’s husband, Patrick, is a man.
As The Washington Post’s Sonia Rao previously explained,
Mr. Ratburn and “the Special Someone,” as Patrick is referred to in the episode’s title, join a small group of LGBTQ figures to appear in the “Arthur” universe. In 2005, PBS pulled an episode of the spinoff “Postcards From Buster,” which followed Arthur’s rabbit friend as he visited different cities across North America. Margaret Spellings, a secretary of education under former president George W. Bush, had denounced the episode featuring the children of two lesbians living in Vermont because, according to a New York Times article from the time, she believed many parents wouldn’t want to “expose” their children to a same-sex couple.
The two state networks were not the only organizations to take a stand against the wedding episode. OneMillionMoms.com, a division of the fundamentalist Christian nonprofit American Family Association, wrote on its website that “Arthur” was no longer a “clean” show. The characters’ smiles and happiness for Mr. Ratburn and Patrick, the organization wrote, “further normalize and glorify the gay marriage.”
PBS told NPR in a statement: “PBS Kids programs are designed to reflect the diversity of communities across the nation. We believe it is important to represent the wide array of adults in the lives of children who look to PBS Kids every day.”
“Arthur” creator Marc Brown told the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. that he was happy to see so many positive comments about the wedding episode on social media.
“Art reflects life. Life reflects art,” Brown told CBC. “And I think that kids need to see what’s happening in the world.”
“Sesame Street,” another popular children’s show, recently made news for portraying another type of family: a foster family. Karli is a Muppet living with her “for-now” parents, Dalia and Clem. The three characters are shown in videos that Sesame Workshop, which produces the show, made to advertise resources for families facing difficult circumstances.