Sesame Workshop — the nonprofit organization that produces Sesame Street — has issued a denial that Bert and Ernie are a "loving couple."
"As we have always said, Bert and Ernie are best friends,” the organization wrote on Twitter. “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."
Please see our statement below regarding Bert and Ernie. pic.twitter.com/6r2j0XrKYu
— Sesame Workshop (@SesameWorkshop) September 18, 2018
The statement follows the publication of a Tuesday interview with former Sesame Street writer Mark Saltzman, who told Queerty that he modeled the dynamics of the puppets after his own relationship with then-partner Arnold Glassman, who died in 2003. Saltzman wrote for the children's show in the 1980s and '90s.
“I always felt that without a huge agenda, when I was writing Bert and Ernie, they were [a gay couple.] I didn’t have any other way to contextualize them," Saltzman said, adding, "I don’t think I’d know how else to write them, but as a loving couple."
The language of the new statement from Sesame Workshop mirrors an older one. In 2011, Sesame Workshop insisted that Bert and Ernie — who as two male characters who lived together, were long rumored to be lovers — were "best friends" and nothing more. This statement came in response to a Change.org petition urging the puppets to come out after marriage equality came to New York.
"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," the statement added.
Yet no statement seems to be able to shake the belief in popular culture that Bert and Ernie were more than just friends. In 2013, The New Yorker featured a cover of the puppets embracing on a couch as they watched the news of the historic U.S. v. Windsor Supreme Court decision that overturned a key section of the Defense of Marriage Act.
The puppets even figured in a "religious freedom" controversy in 2015, after a bakery in Northern Ireland refused to bake a cake with their likeness, as it violated the bakers' "Christian values and beliefs." The text on the requested cake read, "Support gay marriage."