LEWISTON, Maine -- Officials of Maine Public Broadcasting Network expect to decide this week whether to air an episode of a children's program starring a cartoon rabbit that became a focus of controversy because it features lesbian parents.
PBS dropped plans to distribute the half-hour episode of ''Postcards from Buster" nationwide following objections from US Education Secretary Margaret Spellings. Instead, individual stations will decide whether to broadcast the episode.
About 25 members of the public spoke at a meeting Saturday of MPBN's Community Advisory Board that featured colliding views about same-sex marriage, the role of public broadcasting and what constitutes appropriate material for children's television.
Opponents of the episode quoted from the Bible and said it would be wrong to present a sinful lifestyle to children.
Supporters countered by saying that censoring the program would label gays and lesbians as second-class people.
''From where I'm sitting, that says to me my right to exist, who I am and was born to be, and my family's right to exist, is controversial," said Donna Senkbeil of Durham, who is raising a child with her lesbian partner. ''That's scary to me."
Each of the 18 members of the Community Advisory Board offered feedback they had gathered from constituents on the ''Sugartime" episode of the PBS show that focuses on Buster's visit with Vermont children as they learn to make maple syrup and cheese. The children's parents are lesbians.
Almost without exception, board members said adults who saw the show had no objection to its airing on the public network. Many used the word ''innocuous" in describing the show, which makes only indirect reference to the children's family situation.
But the Rev. Douglas Taylor of The Jesus Party Inc., a church in Lewiston, characterized the episode as an insidious attempt to legitimize a new definition of family that is immoral and counter to his religion.
Clutching a toy rabbit with the sign, ''Don't Pervert My Show," Taylor said PBS should not fall in line with what he believes is a misguided popular culture.
''You put gay in the music and the movies and the TV, and we're putting filth in the house and introducing the gay agenda," he said.
Others said the presentation of loving, same-sex families is exactly the sort of educational mission PBS should undertake to prepare children to live in a diverse world.
Martha Palmer of Lisbon Falls, a leader with Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays in Portland, said her gay son went through a dark period of feeling hopeless before eventually starting a family.
''Maybe if he'd seen [role models] on PBS, he would have had more hope and wouldn't have had suicidal thoughts," she said. ''We need somebody out there they can see."