It is the hot-button social issue of the age.

Shouldn’t your three-year-old have an opinion about it?

An online petition calling for the nuptials of Muppet flat-mates Bert and Ernie has sparked comment, controversy and lots of tweets…

Chicago resident Lair Scott, who posted the petition, is seeking matrimony for the “Sesame Street” chums as a way to make gay and lesbian kids who watch the show feel better about themselves, and to promote tolerance for people who are different.

The marriage could legitimately happen, he reasons, since Sesame Street is located in New York, where gay marriage became legal in June. Others agreed. By Thursday afternoon, Scott’s petition had collected 5,800 signatures.

If we let Bert and Ernie get married, then surely the days of men marrying Snuffleupaguses will soon be upon us. Note well: Despite the petition attracting only a few thousand signatures, it became enough of a media phenomenon to force a statement from the Sesame Workshop. Their reply? They’re puppets:

Bert and Ernie are best friends. They were created to teach preschoolers that people can be good friends with those who are very different from themselves.

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.

And thus was a fuzzy, felt-covered middle finger extended to the show’s critics. I have no kids of my own so here’s an earnest question for the parents among the HA faithful: Is there some sort of strong anti-gay-marriage subtext to children’s shows happening these days that desperately requires counterprogramming by Sesame Street? I haven’t watched kiddie TV in 30 years, but from what I remember there were two basic messages: (1) here’s how to count to 10, and (2) we should be nice to people and accept them for who they are, however superficially different they might be. The gay-rights movement has done pretty well recently despite the fact that we all had to cope as kids with the terrible ambiguity in the relationship of two puppets on a show best known for a giant androgynous bird and some angry creature that lives in a garbage can. Besides, most of the grade-schoolers watching Sesame Street right now will be watching “Glee” in a few years. Any gay-hate bred into them by Grover or the Count or whoever will be undone soon enough.

Incidentally, this isn’t the first time social activists have tried to make an issue of Bert and Ernie. In the past, though, it’s come from the fringe right, not the left. For your viewing pleasure, the obligatory cheap yet amusing YouTube goof.