More on Gay Marriage: The Bert-and-Ernie Debate

by Jamison Koehler on August 12, 2011

My wife and I head to France next week for the marriage of our friends “Paul” and “Serge.”  My wife will officiate at the wedding ceremony.  Lawyers can apparently do that in France, although they tell me that, under French law, I am too old to serve as the ring-bearer.  Damn.  And by just a couple of years at that.

Paul and Serge lived together for four years before Paul came up with the courage to tell his parents he is gay.  After a long talk, both parents were understanding and accepting. But one last thought did occur to Paul’s mother after the conversation was over and Paul was heading for the door.  “Oh but Paul,” she said. “How well do you think Serge is going to take the news?”

There has been some good-natured but sincere chatter recently on the Internet urging the producers of “Sesame Street” to let Bert and Ernie, the two inseparable and “googly-eyed” pals, finally tie the knot.  As Petula Dvorak of the Washington Post puts it, there is good reason for a show “that 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 . . . lives in 99 percent of the nation’s counties.”

Dvorak herself is against the proposal:  “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 far better course, she says, would be to have Sesame Street add a same-sex human couple on the show:  “These are flesh-and-blood, genuine and increasingly legal unions.  It’s not something that should be represented by foam creatures.”

With the New York legislature having recently legalized gay marriage in the Empire State, there are now six states that issue licenses for same-sex unions.  Public opinion surveys show a remarkable trend in the growing number of people who support same-sex marriage.  For example, a Washington Post-ABC poll found that 51 percent of people nationwide now support gay marriage, up from 36 percent in 2006.

I have also detected a promising trend in movies and on T.V. — similar to the evolution with respect to the portrayal of African Americans — in which gay characters are no longer defined solely by their sexual orientation; they can be flawed and complex human beings as well. I think it was Don Cheadle who said that there were two types of roles available to him when he first started out in acting:  He could play the angry black street hood or he could portray the noble victim of racism and oppression.  But in either case, the character was defined solely by race. He says he gets better roles now.

Friends of ours who are gay have always demonstrated a remarkable tolerance toward the people who would deny them the same rights as everyone else enjoys in our society.  “It’s complicated,” they say when I ask them why they aren’t more bitter about it all.  This is a tolerance I for one need to emulate.


8 Comments on “More on Gay Marriage: The Bert-and-Ernie Debate

  1. If I understand things correctly, the ability to get married is a privilege accorded by the state, not a right. Incidentally, I notice that you’ve used a picture of Bert and Ernie to accompany your post. Are you ever worried about the copyrights on the images you use?

  2. Melissa: I am not a constitutional scholar and it has been many years since I read the line of cases about the constitutional right to privacy in connection with some personal and interpersonal affairs. However, even assuming that marriage is in fact just a privilege and not a right, it is still a privilege from which many accompanying rights (e.g., survivor benefits) are derived.

    I buy the royalty-free rights to most of the photographs I use on this site from IStock Photography. The image above came under a new category entitled “for editorial use” only. Accorded to the terms, use in a blog entry falls within this category.

  3. Is Jamison your real name or did you buy the rights to that too? I also noticed that you used the Times New Roman font for this blog post – do you have the rights to that font? It only matters to me in the posts that are on socially controversial issues. You can say what you want on all your other posts (sans Rakofsky).

  4. Capt. Barnett: Fair enough. How about them Redskins?

  5. Of course I was being sarcastic in my comment, but in all seriousness, the Redskins stink. As a Cowboys fan (perhaps fanatic), I sincerely hope and pray that the Skins choose to start Sexy Rexy. He may look decent on occasion, but he always returns to form (a.k.a. an interception factory) eventually.

  6. As a gay person who cannot marry my partner, I applaud your support of gay marriage. The sad commentary is that this post has only elicited Melissa’s cloaked resentful comment. (I do love the cheeky comment from B.W. Barnett exposing Melissa’s resentment though.)

    I for one participated in group events that supported gay marriage in California despite the fact that I would not get married even if I could. I simply do not want to get married again, I was married to a woman before and the divorce process is something that I never want to go through again. With that being said I really felt like a second class citizen when California citizens voted against the right of gays to marry.

    The election was an in-your-face message to all gays that they are not equal to others. Melissa’s comment about the right to marry being a privilege evokes a punishment concept. When we talk about people losing a privilege it is because they did not follow a rule or obligation. Even if marriage is a privilege why are gays not worthy of that privilege?

    Thanks for highlighting this important issue.

  7. Pingback: Text for Susan Burke's Remarks at Daniel and Vincent's Wedding Ceremony | Koehler Law

  8. Jamie,
    I feel so honored by your recent posts on issues relating to gay marriage, and of course your support of gays and lesbians who wish to marry. As a part of full disclosure, I should say that I am the American in the couple, so I have a vested interest not only in the issue of gay marriages in general but in this marriage in particular.
    As to Melissa’s comment that marriage is a privilege given out by the state and not a basic human right per-se, I would invite Melissa and any others to take a stand on behalf of those whose lives have been written out of the law. Any legislature in the world can pass laws that represent majority views and ignore the rights of the minorities under their jurisdiction. We call this the tyranny of the majority. It doesn’t mean that those minorities have no rights, it only means that those rights are not recognized by their government because for one reason or another the minorities’ interests are not represented by those in power who form that government.
    If I remember correctly, Susan Burke who officiated at our wedding cited several international statutes that indeed do proclaim the right to marry the person of your choice as a basic human right. If perhaps this declaration was intended to prohibit the forcing of women into non-consensual marriages, the right laid out can easily pertain to gays and lesbians who of their own free will choose to marry someone of their own sex.
    On a more personal note, I — Paul in your article — knew Vincent — Serge — for about 4 years not fifteen before telling my parents. [Editor’s note: Sorry. Blog entry has been amended.] Though it sounds so funny, I am sure the question as to whether or not Vincent knew was meant to clarify our relationship more than anything else. I probably hadn’t said, “Vincent and I are a couple,” so clarity was needed. It can be difficult for parents to absorb a child’s coming out, and the vocabulary takes a while to get used to. I am so proud of my parents for their undying support of Vincent and myself. I know that we were lucky and that this unflinching parental support is a privilege, but I pray that one day it too will be seen as every child’s right.

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