Penguins Waddle Into the Culture Wars

Oct. 11, 2005 — -- The arduous mating ritual featured in the popular documentary, "March of the Penguins," now has the Antarctic birds waddling right into the culture wars.

Conservative activists are blessing the harrowing journey taken by the Emperor penguins to mate and raise their chicks as a celebration of traditional family values.

"The last time I remember something like that was, of course, 'The Passion of the Christ,' a very different movie," said conservative talk show host and movie critic Michael Medved. "And this is sort of 'The Passion of the Penguins.'"

Conservatives (such as Rich Lowry, editor of National Review) have praised the penguins for being "an ideal example of monogamy," and others have held up the unborn chicks as an argument against abortion.

"As I watched MOTP, I wondered how people could ooh and aww when baby penguins pecked out of their shells, or cover their eyes when a giant petrel attacked a baby penguin, yet not give a thought to the dismemberment and killing of human babies," wrote abortion opponent Jill Stanek in an editorial for the conservative news Web site

Some even argue the film presents a case against evolution and for intelligent design, which says that Charles Darwin's theory of evolution does not fully explain the emergence of highly complex life forms and implies the existence of an unidentified intelligent force. Opponents say intelligent design is simply creationism by another name.

"There is an order to everything that the penguins do, and it's a remarkable order that seems to be placed inside of them," said Mindy Belz, editor of World magazine, a Christian publication.

Nature, Politics Don't Always Fit

But nature doesn't always fit cleanly into political agendas. Penguins Roy and Silo, both males, have been a same-sex penguin couple at New York's Central Park Zoo.

After a straight penguin couple rejected one of their eggs, Roy and Silo even adopted, hatched and raised a chick together, becoming Tango's foster penguins.

So in response to conservatives, The New York Times' editorial board asked last month, "If Emperor penguins are sending us a message about heterosexual marriage, then what are Roy and Silo doing?"

"To me, in my 17 years of dealing with penguins, I haven't seen any different behavior between them and any other pair raising a chick," said Rob Gramzay, a senior keeper for the Wildlife Conservation Society at the Central Park Zoo.

Advocates of gay marriage extol a children's book about this same-sex penguin family, called "And Tango Makes Three."

But after six years, Silo has ditched Roy. This mating season, he's with a female named Scrappy.

When politics are applied to nature, arguments can become pretty slippery.

ABC News' Diane Mendez contributed to this report.