An online petition launched Monday argues that for the sake of children, PBS and Sesame Street should acknowledge that long-term "roommates" Bert and Ernie are gay and allow the Muppets to marry.
According to the petition posted to Change.org and promoted on Facebook, if the beloved characters were to disclose the true nature of their relationship, it "would show children and their parents that not only is it acceptable but also teach children that homophobia is wrong, bullying is wrong and that Sesame Street should recognize that there are LGBT relationships, families, and include them in their show."
The petition, created by Lair Scott, Shane Cowart, Alex Maggs, and Mark Szabo, had more than 250 signatures by Wednesday morning.
Their proposal drew opposition from the New York Daily News, which said in an editorial Wednesday that "some stages of life -- for example, the years from 2 to 4 -- must be walled off from the passions of adults. Already it's absurd that Cookie Monster denigrates cookies as 'a sometime snack' and pronounces his zeal also for eating eggplant."
"The only hands Henson ever intended to go up Ernie's horizontally striped shirt, or Bert's vertically striped one, were human puppeteers," argued the Daily News about the characters' late creator, Jim Henson.
Rumors that Bert and Ernie represent a gay couple have long circulated, with the Children's Television Workshop, now known as Sesame Workshop, issuing formal denials as early as 1993.
"Bert and Ernie, who've been on Sesame Street for 25 years, do not portray a gay couple, and there are no plans for them to do so in the future," said the statement almost 20 years ago. "They are puppets, not humans. Like all the Muppets created for Sesame Street, they were designed to help educate preschoolers. Bert and Ernie are characters who help demonstrate to children that despite their differences, they can be good friends."
In 1994, Joseph Chambers, a North Carolina preacher, attempted to get the duo banned because of their close living arrangement and "blatantly effeminate characteristics," saying on a radio show, "If this isn't meant to represent a homosexual union, I can't imagine what it's supposed to represent."
Whether or not the fictitious characters have a sexual orientation, Bert and Ernie live in a state with a marriage equality law, as Sesame Street takes place in an unidentified New York City neighborhood.