The Bert and Ernie marriage equality saga was one of those sideshow stories I was loath to become invested in.

Not since the Tinky Winky trans scandal of ‘99 had I rolled my eyes with such fervour.

As retweets of quotes from such culturally-attuned minds as Armistead Maupin came flooding through – “The folks who fret that a wedding between Bert and Ernie would ’sexualise’ a kids’ show were remarkably silent about a frog porking a pig.” – and the mainstream press saw the issue rise to the top of their popular story rankings, it was clear the change.org petition to get the muppets to marry had cemented itself as tabloid tattle of the day.

If you don’t have a rusty nail to stick in your eye, you could always head to a certain news site’s comment section under the article and inflict a similar experience. Maybe listen in to the soapbox of breakfast television just to rub salt into the wound.

For me, it’s never the initial story that particularly raises my ire, it’s the response. And if I wasn’t invested in this bit of pulp journalism before, the moral outrage ensures I’m about to be.

The producers of Sesame Street let advocates of the duo’s nuptials down easy:

“Even though they are identified as male characters and possess many human traits and characteristics (as most Sesame Street Muppets do), they remain puppets, and do not have a sexual orientation.”

What this means for the South African Sesame Street muppet with HIV, I’m not sure. Perhaps he’s an injectable drug user.

Broadly, Maupin has it right when he riles against this idea that having a children’s television character that is gay is somehow ‘sexualising’ the audience.

In 2008, US gay website AfterElton stuck it to Disney Channel president Gary Marsh about an absence of gay role models for kids. His response:

“We don’t deal with sexuality on the Disney Channel in general. That’s just sort of not where our audience’s head’s at. They’re really a pre-sexual audience, for the most part, and so sexuality is not how we look to tell any kind of stories.”

In a follow-up chat this year, Marsh seemed to have softened, saying they leave it up to the audience to interpret whether a character might be gay. To his credit, AfterElton’s reporter had a smashing response:

“But why is a gay character something a gay teen should have to interpret? Why can’t there be an age appropriate way to specifically include a gay character? On [Disney program] Shake It Up! two of the straight characters go out on a date. Why does the gay kid have to settle for interpreting? You wouldn’t say that to a black kid.”

There we have it. There’s no outrage on the Disney Channel if a male character says he’s in love with his female classmate or goes on a date with her.

If there was a married, straight muppet couple with muppet children in Sesame Street, we wouldn’t call that ‘sexualising’ children.

So why is it that if there is the ‘threat’ of a gay character, the conservative commentariat is quick to declare our kids have just been subjected to some form of pop-cultural child abuse?

Being accused of a liberal bias hasn’t seemed to have concerned Sesame Street producers before – not even when they ripped Fox News a new one by parodying the cable channel with their own ‘Pox News’ skit a few years back.

And if The Jim Henson Company doesn’t want to claim a queer bent, then they have to donate all revenue from 1986’s Labyrinth to charity and issue a statement confirming Mr. Snuffleupagus has never been to a bear bar.

Programs like Sesame Street have always been at the forefront of helping children understand diversity in our society, particularly with issues such as gender and race.

I wasn’t particularly concerned about the absence of a queer character before; given the response, I think it’s high time we had one now.

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