The furry characters, thought up by Frank Oz and Jim Henson in 1969, share a bedroom, wear stylishly matching stripes and even have adorable portraits of themselves hanging up around their apartment. Sounds like a nice life, to be totally honest.
In the 1970s and 80s, when there were so few gay characters on TV, this sweet - implicitly gay - relationship was kinda revolutionary.
And their same-sex relationship became such an iconic part of American pop culture folk-lore that when the Supreme Court struck down anti-gay marriage laws in 2013, the New Yorker chose the pair to star on their front cover.
On Sunday, Sesame Street scriptwriter Mark Saltzman, who worked on the show in the 1980s and 90s, appeared to settle this puppet sexuality debate once and for all when asked if he thought of Bert and Ernie were a gay couple.
“I always felt that without a huge agenda, when I was writing Bert and Ernie, they were,” Saltzman said in an interview with Queerty.
“So I don’t think I’d know how else to write them, but as a loving couple.”
Saltzman was in a long-term relationship with another man when he joined the show. “That’s what I had in my life, a Bert & Ernie relationship. How could it not permeate?”
What a lovely message this is – and what a chance for Sesame Street to be mature and allow their kids’ show to feature openly gay characters, especially for all the little queer kids watching around the world.
Unfortunately, however, this isn’t what happened. Bosses at the TV show released a couple of weird statements that take a strangely hard line against any suggestion the characters could be gay.
“As we have always said, Bert and Ernie are best friends,” Sesame Workshop said. “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 Frank Oz has gone to comically over-the-top lengths to defend the character’s straightness on Twitter:
We’re not entirely sure why they can’t just let Bert and Ernie be lovers; if it’s good enough for Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy, why can’t gay muppets get together, too?
At the end of the day, we don’t really care what they say; Bert and Ernie are queer and that’s just the way it is.