Sesame Workshop Has Insisted They're Just Friends

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — While the Sesame Workshop has maintained for many years that Bert and Ernie are just platonic friends, the “Sesame Street” characters appear clearly as a romantic couple on the cover of an upcoming New Yorker issue focusing on the U.S. Supreme Court decision against the Defense of Marriage Act.

In a 5-4 ruling this past Wednesday, the court struck down a provision of the Defense of Marriage Act that has prevented married gay couples from receiving a range of tax, health and retirement benefits that are generally available to married people.

The digital version of the cover of the July 8 and 15 issue of the magazine went viral when it was released Friday. In a statement on the New Yorker Web site, artist Jack Hunter said the decision and the move forward in gay rights was something that people of all ages could acknowledge.

“It’s amazing to witness how attitudes on gay rights have evolved in my lifetime,” Hunter said on the New Yorker Web site. “This is great for our kids, a moment we can all celebrate.”

In the image, Bert is shown with his arm around Ernie, as Ernie rests his head on Bert’s shoulder. They are watching an old-fashioned black-and-white TV with dials and bunny-ear antennas, showing the Supreme Court justices.

The image, titled “Moment of Joy,” is not brand new. It originally appeared in May 2012 on a Tumblr administered by Nadja Spiegelman – the daughter of New Yorker covers editor Françoise Mouly – showcasing “Blown Covers” in which artists were invited to sketch a mock New Yorker cover based on a theme.

The original “Moment of Joy” sketch showed President Barack Obama on the TV screen rather than the Supreme Court justices, having appeared shortly after Obama officially announced his support of same-sex marriage.

Sesame Workshop spokeswoman Pam Hacker was not immediately available for comment Saturday, but in the past, the non-profit organization has repeatedly said Bert and Ernie do not represent a gay couple.

The issue came up most recently in 2011, when thousands of people signed a petition on the Web site called for Bert and Ernie to be wed on “Sesame Street.” The petition first posted by activist Lair Scott of suburban Chicago said given the abuse suffered by gay and lesbian children for who they are, and the fact that many LGBT youth have committed suicide over the bullying they have suffered, “Sesame Street” should take a stand.

But the Sesame Workshop responded:

“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.”

Scott also created a Facebook fan page in favor of Bert and Ernie getting married, which remained active as of this week and has nearly 7,400 “likes.”

As CBS Chicago recalled in 2011, the Sesame Workshop and its precursor, the Children’s Television Workshop, have always maintained that Bert and Ernie are puppets with no sexual orientation. But speculation on the subject goes back more than 30 years.

The Snopes Urban Legends Reference site points out that in the 1980 essay anthology The Real Thing, writer Kurt Andersen made a comical remark that “Bert and Ernie conduct themselves in the same loving, discreet way that millions of gay men, women and hand puppets do. They do their jobs well and live a splendidly settled life together in an impeccably decorated cabinet.”

In the decades since, the rumor has drawn protests and even calls to have Bert and Ernie legally banned from the airwaves. But it has also been the subject of successful parodies – most notably the closeted gay puppet character Rod and his straight roommate Nicky in the Broadway musical “Avenue Q.”

Ironically, the producers of “Avenue Q” staged a wedding for Rod with Ricky, the puppet boyfriend he meets at the end of the play, when same sex marriage became legal in New York State in 2011.

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