With the winds of national press attention at its back, a change.org petition urging TLC to cancel “19 Kids and Counting” has racked up more than 100,000 signatures. The reason, as stated by the petition’s creator: Recent anti-gay statements made by members of the Duggars, the family that stars on the popular TLC show.
One of those statements came in an August robocall voiced by Michelle Duggar, who blasted an anti-discrimination ordinance in Arkansas. Duggar claimed in the message that the ordinance would allow “males with past child predator convictions that claim they are female to have a legal right to enter private areas that are reserved for women and girls” — words that petition author Jim Wissick says “reek of ignorance and fear mongering.”
In her robocall, Duggar urged residents to “speak up for protecting women and children” and said the proposal would “endanger their daughters or allow them to be traumatized by a man joining them in their private space.” The ordinance, which passed, prohibits businesses and public accommodations from discriminating against people based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Wissick also mentioned Josh Duggar’s job, working for the conservative Family Research Council, which is known for its strong opposition to same-sex marriage laws.
For those who have been following the Duggars, the petition raises a question: Why now?
While they speak often of common ground with most Americans, the Duggars are a proud, outspoken spokes-family for their conservative Christian beliefs. They’re seen as rock-star guests for socially conservative politicians and conferences; in 2012, for instance, they campaigned for Rick Santorum.
Their beliefs have become a bigger part of their TLC show this season: As their children age, the usually light reality show has looked more closely at what the Duggars believe is — and isn’t — a family. In other words, the Duggar kids are getting married.
The Duggars are part of the Quiverfull movement, a small, conservative evangelical movement that urges its followers to have as many children as God will give them. Jim Bob and Michelle Duggars were given 19 children. They, as many Quiverfull families do, home-schooled their kids. The oldest have themselves taken up the faith of their parents, becoming eloquent, practiced spokespeople for their relatively obscure set of beliefs.
The four oldest daughters published their first book this year, an advice book for relationships. Among other things, the Duggar women discussed their belief in courtship: Duggar women don’t date, and they save anything more than a side-arm hug for after marriage. No kissing.
This ninth season of “19 Kids and Counting” has been filled with their courtships, engagements and marriages.
Now that they’re married, however, the Duggar children have been doing their best to show the edgy side of what they see as a godly, married relationship:
Emphasis on godly: A gay couple posted its own “kiss” picture in response to the call for similar photos, and it was apparently removed from the Duggars’ Facebook page.
Although the Duggars and TLC have not commented on the change.org petition, or on the controversy surrounding the removal of that kiss photo, the family did put a line of scripture, Luke 6:27, on its official site: “But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.”
The post goes on: “This is such a sweet scripture that we hold dear. We will always stand for truth and the values we hold dear without compromise but we will do so in love and kindness–treating others well even if we don’t agree with them and we will do so without hateful words. This verse is a reminder of how we must always carry ourselves. Precious words from Jesus.”
Their supporters have responded to the petition in kind with their own petitions, including a change.org petition to keep “19 Kids and Counting” on the air, and another at Lifesitenews that has more than 45,000 signatures. “Rather than being extreme, the Duggars represent the majority of people in state after state who have stood up for the traditional family,” the petition argues.
For a family that’s made a career of overcoming a significant theological gap with many Americans, the Duggars have until recently avoided mainstream criticism. But they’re hardly the first conservative reality-show family to face blowback for the ideas they support.
The Robertsons of “Duck Dynasty” fame emerged late last year from their own controversy about anti-gay remarks with their highly-rated A&E show intact — and even more support from a conservative fan base that has adopted some members of the family as folk heroes. Family patriarch Phil Robertson has written a new book and gets to go on Fox News to opine on issues such as the Islamic State.
Sadie Robertson, a teenager, recently told E! News that she was “honored” that people compared her to the Duggars after she announced she would remain abstinent until marriage. “I’ve actually met the Duggars once and they’re great people,” she said. “So to be compared to them is actually an honor, not anything bad.”
[This post has been updated]