PBS kicked off the 22nd season of its long-running cartoon Arthur with a groundbreaking episode that lovingly featured same-sex marriage. The episode revealed that Arthur’s teacher, Mr. Ratburn, was engaged, and ended with his wedding to another man. But PBS affiliates in Alabama didn’t join in with the 8-year-old aardvark and his friends as they celebrated their instructor’s nuptials, refusing to air the episode.
NBC News reports that Alabama Public Television, which distributes PBS programming within the state, chose to air an older episode of Arthur instead of “Mr. Ratburn and the Special Someone.” Representatives from Alabama Public Television cited concerns over the episode’s content as the reason they chose not to deliver the episode to local affiliates.
“Parents have trusted Alabama Public Television for more than 50 years to provide children’s programs that entertain, educate and inspire,” Mike McKenzie, the director of programming at Alabama Public Television, told NBC News. “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.”
To air “Mr. Ratburn and the Special Someone” would betray that trust parents have in the station, McKenzie told NBC, which reported that Alabama Public Television did not want to “[take] away the choice of parents who felt it was inappropriate for their children.”
That’s the same argument made by APT’s former executive director, Allan Pizzato, nearly 15 years ago, when it opted not to air an episode of the Arthur spinoff Postcards from Buster that referenced lesbian couples.
“Our feeling is that we basically have a trust with parents about our programming. This program doesn’t fit into that,” Pizzato explained at the time.
Arthur has always had a tendency not to shy away from content that reflects the world young viewers might see offscreen; the episode featuring Mr. Ratburn’s wedding was praised by many viewers not only for depicting same-sex marriage in the first place — a rare move for kids’ programming — but for celebrating the couple without much commentary. The show spent no time trying to explain or justify same-sex marriage to viewers; instead, it simply presented a normalized same-sex couple.
Same-sex marriage is legal in Alabama, although the state’s former Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore was removed from his post for trying to circumvent marriage equality in 2016.
And while Mr. Ratburn and his new husband may have been rejected by the state’s local broadcasting affiliates, the episode is available for anyone to stream on the PBS website.