The beloved children's animated series has been on the air since 1996 and is currently in its 22nd season
Arthur is making progressive strides in children’s television.
On Monday, the beloved animated series started off season 22 with a bang when it revealed that one of its longtime characters, Arthur’s teacher Mr. Ratburn, was gay and getting married.
In the premiere episode titled “Mr. Ratburn and the Special Someone,” Arthur and his friends attend their teacher’s wedding, thinking that Mr. Ratburn is marrying female rat Patty (voiced by Jane Lynch) until they realize that she’s actually his sister, Entertainment Weekly reports.
Shocked at the revelation, Arthur’s pal Muffy then asks, “Who is Mr. Ratburn marrying?” — only to turn around and find their teacher walking down the aisle next to another groom.
As the couple walks down with their arms interlocked and passes Arthur and his friends, Mr. Ratburn’s new love interest — who appears to be an aardvark — winks at them. Arthur and Muffy then look at each other with giant smiles on their face.
Later in the episode, which was captured by a fan, Arthur and his pals discuss the wedding and their disbelief that Mr. Ratburn is married, to which Francine tells the group, “Yep, it’s a brand new world” — perhaps a nod to the changing cultural times.
They even joke that dancing is the one thing “teachers should never, ever do” as Mr. Ratburn and his new husband show off their moves on the dance floor.
Shortly after its premiere, the internet erupted over the inclusion of a gay character and storyline in such a prominent children’s program.
“PSA: Mr. Ratburn from ‘Arthur’ is gay. Do you know how amazing it is that someone who’s been on the show from the start, someone who’s a main character, is openly gay and getting married on a kids show?” wrote one user. “PBS Kids really is that bitch. Plus, all his students are at his wedding! :’)”
“For anyone who missed it, Mr. Ratburn married his male partner on the most recent episode of #Arthur,” added someone else. “big props for celebrating love and fearlessly exampling to a young audience all types of relationships.”
“mr. ratburn from arthur is gay this is the absolute best thing you’ll see all day,” noted one person, while another joyfully said, “Mr. Ratburn got married on Arthur! Mr. Ratburn is gay, im crying. wowowow f— cute”
“So I was watching the new episode of Arthur and they just confirmed Mr.Ratburn is gay by him having a same sex marriage. Wow…that’s huge for them to do” wrote someone else.
Others, meanwhile, did not approve of the decision and outwardly expressed that on social media.
“#Arthur is a kids show that tackles on a lot of serious issues, which is a good thing. But now, their [sic] going a little too far with it. #PBS,” one Twitter user noted.
And then there were some who weren’t necessarily against the choice, but were confused as to why a gay character was “needed” on a children’s show.
“OK so apparently Mr. Ratburn from Arthur is gay…. That’s cool and all but why? It’s a kids show, it doesn’t exactly ‘need’ an openly gay character,” wrote one user. “Don’t get me wrong, I respect the LGBTQ+ community. I just don’t understand why so many TV characters are gay these days. #Ally”
RELATED VIDEO: Josh Gad on Controversial ‘Gay Moment’ In ‘Beauty & the Beast:’ ‘This Film Is One of Inclusiveness’
In a statement to PEOPLE, PBS said the moment was crucial in accurately reflecting the “diverse communities” that the children who watch the show are currently being raised in.
“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,” the network stated.
This isn’t the first time that the Arthur universe has delved into same-sex marriage. In 2005, a spinoff of the series called “Postcards from Buster” — centered on Arthur’s lovable rabbit friend — featured a lesbian couple, Variety reports.
Controversial at the time, PBS eventually pulled the episode after then-Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings disapproved of the publicly funded network’s program, according to the outlet. There were, however, some PBS affiliates that chose to broadcast it anyway.
Arthur has been on the air since October 10, 1996. The show is the longest-running children’s animated series in the U.S., and is currently the second-longest running animated series in the U.S., behind The Simpsons, according to IMDb.