Proposition Bert and Ernie

Why marriage equality shouldn’t be extended to puppets.

In 2009, the National Organization for Marriage—America’s foremost opponent of same-sex marriage, civil unions, and gay adoption rights—launched an ad campaign called “Gathering Storm” in an attempt to pass Proposition 8, which would bar the door to legalize same-sex marriage in California. The commercial featured actors of all creeds (because bigotry knows no colour), standing stern against a backdrop of stormy clouds, relaying the following messages: “The winds are strong,” “We—are—afraid,” and “There’s a storm gathering.”

That storm, of course, was gay marriage, and all the evils it would carry with it: (1) the obliteration of the sanctity of marriage, (2) the collapse of the traditional family, and (3) the blatant homosexual indoctrination of “our” children. Statistics have since proven 1 and 2 are non sequiturs (divorce rates are unusually low in states that sanction gay marriage, where, remarkably, traditional God fearing families still abound).  But it’s the latter threat that has anti-marriage folk all hot and bothered these days. Why? Because according to one of NOM’s most recent blog posts, “an online campaign to pressure the producers of Sesame Street into having lovable roommates Bert and Ernie get married is gathering steam.” The big gay Storm, it seems, has gotten steamy—so much so that it threatens to corrupt odd couple Ernie and Bert, all the while predisposing your Sesame Street-watching child to a life of sexual deviance.

The online campaign is actually a petition, thought up by Illinois resident Lair Scott. It was posted on the lefty petitions database earlier this month, and to date has amassed all of 9,693 virtual signatures; hardly enough “steam,” you’d think, to convince the producers of Sesame Street to nuptialize Ernie and Bert.  In fact the show has responded to Scott’s request, stating that the characters are void of sexual orientation; they’re only friends.  But the National Organization for Marriage and their marriage loving friends aren’t buying it.  The “gay agenda” has gone too far this time, they claim. And I couldn’t agree more: The only thing worse for same-sex marriage than the bigoted lobby group trying to eradicate it is this petition.

What better homophobic ammunition could anti-gay activists get than a movement positing the marriage of alleged homosexuals who are not even human. What’s next? Bestiality? (Or so the argument goes).  The problem with Lair Scott’s well-meaning but profoundly misguided petition is that the only thing it will accomplish is the subversion of legitimate gay rights movements. To begin with, the petition is fundamentally silly.  “In this horrid age of LGBT kids taking their own lives,” it reads in part, “and being beaten for who they are, [they] need to know that they’re BEAUTIFUL as Christine’s song goes.”

In other words, letting Ernie and Bert get married will let gay-predilected children feel better about themselves.  But this presupposes that gay or straight preschoolers anywhere think about the sexual orientation of puppets or cartoon figures. They don’t. It doesn’t matter that Ernie and Bert cannot live without hands crawling up their posteriors or that they have never brought home Miss Piggy, individually or as a team—because it’s pretty unlikely that your child/younger sibling/kid you babysit shares your prurient suspicion about their sexual orientation. Gay innuendos aren’t lost on pre-schoolers because same-sex couples are missing from popular culture, but because all innuendos are lost on preschoolers. That’s why they’re innuendos.

Watch Shrek with a child in your life and take note of his laughter. He’s not slapping his thighs at Donkey’s references to the “South Side.” You are. So whatever you’ve been thinking about Ernie and Bert, your kid hasn’t. Their marriage, then, let alone a first date, would be baffling to children, and irrelevant to their sexual self-worth. It would also be, yes, perverted.

A lot of bathing goes on at Ernie and Bert’s place; one such bath involved Bert’s coaxing his young nephew into the tub, at which point Ernie got overly excited and jumped in himself, accompanied by some of his favourite toys. Let Ernie and Bert get married, and all those bubbles are no longer so cute. The irony is that the dirty mind syndrome necessary to infer or imply sexual subtexts where they don’t exist is usually an instinct of the socially conservative and repressed. In this case, however, the tables have turned. Gay rights activist and petition writer Lair Scott maintains that his campaign has nothing to do with sex, but marriage between people or puppets implies exactly that.

Fran Lebowitz (a human lesbian) once said that “there is too much democracy in the culture, not enough democracy in the society.” She may well have been talking about Scott’s petition and its 9000+ supporters, whose answer to New York’s recent embrace of marriage equality should be a cry for same-sex rights across their country, not for the same-sex recognition of a supposedly long-awaited puppet union on a children’s television show. By choosing the wrong cause, the petition trivializes the right one. Ernie and Bert’s pending marriage plans are the top gay “rights” media story at the moment. And this at a time when politicians like Michelle Bachmann and Rick Santorum pose an enormous threat to the hard-won gains of same-sex couples.

But mostly, l’affaire d’Ernie and Bert is just sort of embarrassing. Is this really what sexual politics has come to—silly petitions and fodder for a fear-mongering Tea Party? Besides, we in Canada have bigger fish to fry. Gay marriage has been legal in the Great White North since 2005, yet our own real-life Ernie and Bert, Don Cherry and Ron Maclean, haven’t even set a date.

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