Are Bert and Ernie in a same-sex relationship? A writer from Sesame Street has finally addressed the rumors.
“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," Mark Saltzman told Queerty in an interview published Tuesday.
Saltzman, who is gay, said that he and his then-partner Arnold Glassman were referred to as Bert and Ernie. As the "jokester," Saltzman identified with the Ernie character, whereas his partner, a more detailed-oriented film editor, was Bert.
Saltzman revealed that when he started working at Sesame Street, on which he served as a writer in the 1980s and 90s, he was already dating Glassman, and their relationship formed the inspiration for the one he wrote between the male puppets. Glassman died in 2003.
"I don’t think I’d know how else to write them, but as a loving couple," said Saltzman — although he never revealed this information to the PBS children show's head writer.
After news of Saltzman's interview went viral, Sesame Workshop, which produces Sesame Street, denied the claims that Bert and Ernie are a "loving couple." The puppets are "best friends" who as puppets "do not have a sexual orientation," the nonprofit said in a statement.
In 2011, Sesame Workshop released a similar statement that said Bert and Ernie — who as two male characters who lived together, were long rumored to be lovers — were "best friends" and nothing more. The 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 could 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."