OPINION: Stay single, Bert and Ernie
WASHINGTON -- Absolutely not.
Bert and Ernie should not get married.
Fueled by the sea change in states across the nation legalizing same-sex marriage and boosted by a census report that gay households are increasingly going on the record, there is a cheeky but earnest movement afoot urging the producers of "Sesame Street" to let the inseparable guy Muppets finally tie the knot.
It's as obvious as a Scooby-Doo pot joke that these "roomies" -- wink, wink -- are really a gay couple, right?
And it stands to reason that the PBS program, which has been in the vanguard on social issues for 40 years, should step up and give children a positive example of a kind of couple that, according to Gary Gates, a demographer at UCLA, lives in 99 percent of the nation's counties.
Sorry, but I'm not into hearing wedding bells for these two googly-eyed guys.
Just because Bert and Ernie live together, have a sweet bedtime cookie ritual and accept each other's oddball, pigeon-oatmeal-bottle-caps-rubber-ducky quirks doesn't mean they are a gay couple. (Anyhow, then we'd be going back to the silly days of Lucy and Ricky in twin beds. Who wants that?)
Kids don't need us to label that Muppet relationship. What next? We diagnose Oscar the Grouch as bipolar, manic-depressive; explain Big Bird as a Muppet with Marfan syndrome; and tell kids that Grover's mommy is never around because she's the CEO of a major multinational corporation and always traveling?
The lessons of Bert and Ernie are about getting along, sharing, finding beauty in another's flying dumpster rats and eating the mushy oatmeal because it's good for you.
Think of them as the Muppet equivalent of Felix and Oscar, Abbott and Costello, Laurel and Hardy or Penn and Teller. Those partnerships, without marriage, were OK, too.
Sesame Street Workshop responded to the marriage campaign on its Facebook page this week, explaining that Bert and Ernie "remain puppets, and do not have a sexual orientation." I agree.
Besides, we shouldn't rely on puppets to acknowledge our country's historic progress on same-sex relationships.
And that brings us to a campaign I'd really like to see. It is time for "Sesame Street" to add a same-sex human couple to the show.
These are flesh-and-blood, genuine and increasingly legal unions. It's not something that should be represented by foam creatures.
That's tempting for some of the folks who are fumbling for a cute storybook way of teaching kids about same-sex relationships. You can read about Tango the penguin or hope that Bert and Ernie have a lovely wedding, but a more powerful lesson is simply seeing Sylvia and Sandra at school pickup, PTA meetings and the park every day, doing what parents do.
Preschoolers will get this.
And even if same-sex marriage isn't supported by your religion or values, it's time to stop pretending that these couples don't exist. Six states -- New York, Massachusetts, Iowa, Connecticut, New Hampshire and Vermont -- and Washington, D.C., issue licenses for same-sex unions. With the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell," the Pentagon will allow gays to serve openly in the military.
Attitudes toward gay people are being transformed at a dizzying rate. In 2006, a poll showed that 58 percent of Americans opposed same-sex unions and that 36 percent supported them. By early this year, a Washington Post-ABC Poll found a slim, 51 percent majority supported same-sex marriage.
Whether you live in Topeka or Taos, Birmingham or Boston, you and your family probably live near gay male and lesbian couples. They are people, not political statements or something to be hidden or forgotten.
In a tasteful, sensitive and caring way, "Sesame Street" has taught generations of children about race, ethnicity, deafness, adoption, HIV/AIDS, death and military deployment. "Sesame Street" has even been touted as a way to champion American democratic values in Afghanistan.
Introducing a same-sex human couple -- without political fanfare, wedding bells, surprises or sweeping anthropological explanations -- would do the same thing.
The relationship needs to be as unremarkable as Susan and Gordon's race or Luis and Maria's ethnicity.
As for Bert and Ernie, do we really want to see two of our favorite Muppets slip into the ennui of marriage? A life without pigeons and bubble baths and oatmeal? Absolutely not.