With the aggressiveness of progressive social agendas being imposed onto children without parental influence being as common as it is, its easy for conservatives to react with suspicion or even outrage at anything resembling this agenda. Drag queens reading stories to very young children, 11-year-old boys dancing in drag in gay bars for an audience of intoxicated adults and children being encouraged to believe they are the opposite sex all cause a great deal of concern. But what about something that is becoming increasingly normal and noncontroversial like a gay wedding?
A long-running children’s cartoon show, Arthur, opened its 22nd season on May 14th, 2019 with a surprise wedding in which the show’s cast of child characters attend the wedding of their teacher and find out he is marrying another man, some on the right reacted negatively. A week after the controversy began, Alabama Public Television released a statement regarding their decision to not air the episode tweeting out, “Parents trust that their children can watch APT without their supervision,” Alabama Public Television said in response to criticism. Alabama Public Television refuses to air Arthur episode with gay wedding…” This decision happened after a petition circulated the day after the initial airing from the conservative organization One Million Moms in protest of the episode.
The organization argued, “When Mr. Ratburn walks down the aisle, he is arm-in-arm with a man. Both grooms grin and all the guests smile in celebration of the same sex marriage. The third-grade students are happy for their newlywed teacher,” One Million Moms wrote in summation of the plot. “Their praises further normalize and glorify the gay marriage.” Releasing a petition to PBS, declaring the show no longer a ‘clean’ for children, they said, “If you agree this content is inappropriate for a children’s program, please sign our petition to PBS Kids asking the network to pull this episode, “Mr. Ratburn and the Special Someone,” immediately, and no longer air it or others with same sex couples. One Million Moms is giving you this opportunity to voice your disapproval of the network’s attempt to normalize same sex marriage.” The initial outrage was captured shortly after the episode aired by Sebastian Gorka , host of the radio show America First declaring, “This is a war for our culture, and that’s why we exist here, on ‘America First,’ on the Salem Radio Network,”
The core of the argument? Parents should decide how and when to discuss controversial social topics with their children. To this I agree, but is same-sex marriage really a ‘controversial’ social topic any longer? The LGBT organization GLAAD tweeted in response to the ‘banning’ saying, “LGBTQ people exist in every part of life, so the claim that someone could be “too young” to know that LGBTQ people exist is absurd and sends a dangerous message to LGBTQ youth.” To this, I also agree. The episode contains two elements that contradict each other in this narrative as LGBT media praised the portrayal and many on the right condemned it. The first element is the wedding itself. The teacher and his partner walk down the isle arm-in-arm and the students smile at him. The scene jumps to the reception where the kids talk about their excitement at their teacher being married and then make fun of him and the other adults over how they dance. There is nothing particularly explicit here outside of the recognition of the wedding itself.
The other element is the way the episode addresses the marriage. Prior to the reveal the kids do not know who their teacher is marrying, implying they were invited to the wedding but had never heard their teacher talk about his relationship until then. At the reception one kid says, ‘I can’t believe Mr. Ratburn is married!’ and another responds, ‘Yep, it’s a brand new world!’ They end the episode with a joke saying, ‘There’s one thing a teacher should never do and that’s dance!’ For those of us sensitive to messaging in TV this presents two conflicting stories. The first being that the marriage itself is normal and everyone is happy and accepting and the other that it is something kept secret and requires a moment of recognition as to its newness with a joke implying people believe the teacher shouldn’t be doing it in the first place. This is not unusual from the perspective of a progressive activist attempting to insert a moral theme into an otherwise innocent cartoon storyline.
Discussing the unnecessary highlighting of the same-sex nature of the relationship in the cartoon itself in such a way is a little on the nose and I can understand why social conservatives would not appreciate it. But the outrage appears to be focused on the imagery of the wedding itself and the idea that children seeing a gay wedding portrayed is, on its own, harmful. As Gorka states, it is viewed as a ‘war’ for the culture. But is it really? Our culture is liberal, meaning people are socially free to pursue their own happiness. Marriage between members of the same sex has become a routine part of this liberal culture and as a result married gay people navigate society openly and without harassment or secrecy. I once spoke at a middle school about Jewish culture and when a child asked about my wife, I casually answered his question substituting in my husband. No child in the class blinked. It was not controversial, and it did not instigate a lecture on sexuality or any other adult theme. It was merely a common personal detail about my life.
In truth, this is how same-sex marriages mostly are. People mention their spouse just as all married couples do and it is rarely an issue. And this is the core of my argument in support of the first element of the cartoon show. The teacher marrying his male partner and his students attending is something many students of that age are likely to personally experience in a completely unremarkable way. If not a teacher, it could be their uncle as my nephews and niece experienced at our wedding. I certainly reject the notion that seeing my husband and I share this important life event was somehow harmful to them or imposing any specific social agenda onto them. It was simply part of sharing my life with them.
Conservatives are right in opposing explicit, adult sex education, confusing gender identity theories and transgender conditioning on young children. These efforts are designed to impose specific social ideals onto kids with or without their parent’s consent. While many argue portraying a same-sex wedding in a cartoon is similar, the difference is in the context and the impact. A child is likely to experience mundane encounters with same-sex couples. In order to experience drag queen culture, it must be specifically created and brought to them. My final argument is in expansion of the context. An episode in which the teacher ‘comes out’ to his students and goes into a lecture on the ‘correct’ way to view sexuality would be going too far. If the teacher, or any adult in the show, engaged in age-inappropriate affection it would be something to raise concerns over. But to simply recognize that a student’s teacher is marrying his same-sex partner in an episode dedicated to the kids going to a surprise wedding is merely reflecting reality. It is not necessarily advocating for anything in particular.
While some argue that it is an effort to ‘normalize’ homosexuality or same-sex weddings, the reality is that both already are. We aren’t discussing LGBT history detailing the gay pride parades and riots of the 1980’s. We aren’t arguing the moral justification for homosexuality. It isn’t even an argument for gay marriage. Pretending that children are somehow only supposed to view the world the way their parents would like it to be is as unreasonable as the left attempting to shield them from being triggered by ‘hate’ or uncomfortable feelings. Your kids will see my husband and I in everyday life and it isn’t threatening your personal values if they do. It is always a parent’s choice to explain to their children that religiously they oppose these things and I will always stand up for their right to do so. But it is simply unreasonable to pretend my husband and I do not exist in regular life as a mechanism for providing this worldview to kids.
There are many important social and educational concerns for conservatives of all flavors to unite together to oppose. Transitioning children at a young age or using hormone blockers, allowing children to engage in adult behavior, especially when sexually explicit, or stigmatizing the religious freedom to personally adopt traditional styles of behavior and views are all things we can work together to fight. Getting upset over a children’s TV show portraying a very mild recognition of a gay married couple is a waste of energy and counterproductive to our larger efforts. There is no purpose in shouting at the windmills of social changes already deeply embedded in the culture that is little more than ideological opposition. I would argue advocacy for the values you want your kids to have rather than demanding they never be exposed to concepts you would ideally never like them to see in the first place. Arthur and his friends in the show represent real-life kids reacting to same-sex couples in their lives. There is no point in pretending otherwise or demanding there is benefit to attempting to undo this unremarkable acceptance of people like me, my husband or Mr. Ratburn in everyday life.