Should Bert and Ernie Get Gay Married?

Should Bert and Ernie get married? This facebook group thinks so, and so does everyone who signed this Change.org petition.

This is a really important issue because three-year-olds have a lot of feelings about marriage and romantic relationships and definitely need to witness the life-long union between a boy who still plays enthusiastically with his rubber duckie and his best friend, whose hobbies include collecting paper clips and dancing around with pigeons.

From the facebook page:

We have started a petition to Sesame Street and PBS Kids asking them to allow Bert & Ernie to get married on the show. If done tastefully, this would greatly help put an end to the bullying and suicides of LGBT youth. Sesame street should recognize that there are LGBT relationships, families, and include them in their show.

I agree that it’s important to recognize LGBT families, but this isn’t the way to do it.

If Sesame Street was planning to do an episode about marriage in which two straight muppets were married off, then it’d be appropriate to include a same-sex coupling as well. But as far as I remember and can tell now, aside from the occasional Grundgetta reference, Sesame Street’s muppets don’t have romantic relationships or get married. The show isn’t really about romantic relationships, it’s about words and love between friends.

Initially, Sesame Street was primarily created to prepare kids, especially children from low-income families, for school. Long-term goals also include fostering social competence, tolerance of diversity and peaceful conflict resolution. Sesame Street has consistently responded proactively to criticisms about that diversity; adding an HIV-positive character, increasing the quality and quantity of female characters and adding more racial diversity to the cast.

For this reason I think if LGBT diversity is an issue PBS Kids is willing to address, Sesame Street could benefit from featuring an adult human same-sex couple. Kids growing up with gay parents could benefit from positive representations of families like their own and their peers could definitely benefit from a little diversity training. (Though I admit I’d be worried that kids with anti-gay parents would be barred from watching Sesame Street if a gay couple was added, which really sucks for them. But I also know that letting the child-indoctrination propaganda define our activism is “letting the other side win,” so.)

Plus, it wouldn’t be completely out-of-character for Sesame Street to feature married humans. In 1988, Sesame Street human characters Maria and Luis wed, a decision prompted mostly by the fact that the actress playing Maria got pregnant and  “it was decided to have them fall in love, get married, and then have her become pregnant with Gabriella.”  

However! In addition to the fact that this wedding only happened due to an actress’s pregnancy, what’s interesting (and relevant) about this is that when the plan for marriage was established, many were confused about why, if Maria had to marry someone, she wasn’t marrying David, the man speculated to be her boyfriend. Dulcy Singer:

“I thought it would be better to do it with Luis because I didn’t want to open another kettle of fish. It was enough to get a wedding on the show and have a family without opening ourselves to more difficulties. And I thought it would be a good and helpful thing to show a stable Latino family.”

How you feel about the motivations behind that coupling aside, the fact is that romantic relationships are so non-existent on Sesame Street that when Season 19 began — at which point Maria’s character had been on the show for seventeen years — they still were working from scratch to figure out which character ought to “fall in love” with Maria.

elmo was the ring bearer at maria and luisa's wedding

The Muppets and their movies, which are targeted towards adults and children beyond their Sesame Street years, have featured romantic relationships and marriages, like this one:

But that doesn’t happen on Sesame Street.

Things like this do, though, and things like this are pretty fantastic in and of themselves:

 

We’re all familiar with the speculation regarding Bert & Ernie’s sexual orientation. The Sesame Workshop has denied these claims, affirming that Bert and Ernie are really truly just friends and that the characters were actually based on the real-life friendship of Jim Henson and Frank Oz. The Sesame Workshop’s official statement:

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. 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.

At a 2005 ABC Brisbane radio interview, Bert responded to the gay question:

Oh, you had to ask that question. No, no. In fact, sometimes we are not even friends; he can be a pain in the neck.”

At a Carnegie-Mellon University interview in 1997, Ernie responded to the gay question:

“All that stuff about me and Bert? It’s not true. We’re both very happy, but we’re not gay.”

 

But innuendos exist — which happens a lot in children’s television. Things like Bert & Ernie’s sexuality, though invisible to children, are a nod to adults in the audience seeking at least nominal entertainment from children’s programming.

I watched Sesame Street every day growing up and obviously never picked up on Bert & Ernie’s secret gay vibes, probably because I was three fucking years old and didn’t give a shit about sex or marriage or romantic relationships or even where babies came from. My Mom tried to raise us “gender neutral,” so the concept of couplings being strictly male-female or otherwise conforming to typical gender roles was a bit out of my limited scope of understanding.

I may or may not have already been aware that boys had cooties, most of my feelings were about building blocks. I know that sexuality isn’t just about who you have sex with and so “babies don’t think about sex” isn’t a valid argument in and of itself, but that might be why SS tends to stay away from storylines about romantic relationships altogether, regardless of orientation.

TIME Newsfeed says petition opponents are concerned that suddenly marrying Bert and Ernie will be confusing to kids who are unaware of the rumors and also have no gaydar. Other concerns include that this move would be too political for a show about the alphabet, that none of the other muppets are married or in romantic relationships, and that it could give kids the impression that two men living together are always gay. TIME points out, in response to concerns about it being “too political,” that “in the past Sesame Street has introduced a Latina Muppet as well as an HIV-positive Muppet, so producers aren’t exactly ignoring cultural shifts.”

doesn't seem ready for marriage

The proponents of this argue that, “if done tastefully, this would greatly help put an end to the bullying and suicides of LGBT youth.” However, although gender identity starts forming around 2 or 3, it’s incredibly unlikely that four-year-olds have any sexual identity at all, let alone a defiantly homosexual one. But others could argue that it plants the seed for later self-acceptance, I suppose.

Regardless, I still feel the best way to give attention to “cultural shifts” would be to add a married same-sex human couple to the show. But is America ready for that just yet? I’m not gonna lie, it does worry me slightly just because it breaks my heart to think of all the kids who might never see Sesame Street because their parents are anti-gay bigots. I realize that might be a stupid thing to say.

But pushing Bert & Ernie’s beds together and slapping rings on their fingers just seems — well– weird! You guys, Ernie still IS OBSESSED WITH HIS RUBBER DUCKY!?!!? After years of denial, the duo comes out and weds? Is that a good message, too? That you should be ashamed of yourself and lie about who you are for 40 years? We may see valid gay subtext, but what children see is more of a bromance. Despite their differences, Bert & Ernie continue to share a bedroom and hang out all the time, and that’s an important message, too.

Sure, we need more media visibility — desperately, in fact. But that also means “picking our battles” as well — fighting for visibility where it counts. And where it makes sense.

What do you think? Is a Bert/Ernie Marriage your dream come true? Should we care that this issue will play directly into anti-gay activists favorite kind of propaganda — the child-indoctrination crap? Will you sign the petition? Do you think Sesame Street needs to address this issue?

UPDATE: PBS has responded to the petition:

Bert and Ernie are best friends,” the Sesame Workshop, the non-profit group responsible for the show, said in a Facebook message. “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.”

Riese is the 37-year-old CEO, CFO and Editor-in-Chief of Autostraddle.com as well as an award-winning writer, blogger, fictionist, copywriter, video-maker, low-key Jewish power lesbian and aspiring cyber-performance artist who grew up in Michigan, lost her mind in New York and then headed West. Her work has appeared in nine books including "The Bigger the Better The Tighter The Sweater: 21 Funny Women on Beauty, Body Image & Other Hazards Of Being Female," magazines including Marie Claire and Curve, and all over the web including Nylon, Queerty, Nerve, Bitch, Emily Books and Jezebel. She had a very popular personal blog once upon a time, and then she recapped The L Word, and then she had the idea to make this place, and now here we all are! In 2016, she was nominated for a GLAAD Award for Outstanding Digital Journalism. Follow her on twitter and instagram.

Riese has written 2817 articles for us.

70 Comments

    • yes, one helps a gay website*’s SEO and the other doesn’t

      *a gay website who doesn’t employ the more obnoxious SEO trickery employed by every other website in the world or divide its articles into 10 pages to up views

        • It stands for Search Engine Optimization. So basically websites will use certain keywords that will increase their “searchability” or visibility in search engines. Also the splitting up into a million pages thing increases pages views.

          Riese, please feel free to correct me if I’m wrong or way too utterly vague. I just had to jump at the chance to use my 4 yr degree for something other than flipping my shit over media representation :)

    • At this point, I say “gay married” because it’s funny… the whole notion of “gay marriage,” as if there is straight marriage. I personally like to say about things I enjoy: “I wanna gay marry it!” But yes, search engine optimization is another valid reason. :)

  1. My mom explained Bert and Ernie to me as a gay couple when I was four-ish… so. There’s that. But I don’t think they should get married on the show because the muppets on the show don’t age or change or act like real adults so that would be weird. I vote for homosexual humans.

    Also: “So.. marriage is hugging and kissing and helping and loving… wow! That’s a lot!” -Grover.

    Win.

  2. I love love love Bert and Ernie. I don’t think they need to get married because Sesame Street isn’t really about romantic relationships. I kind of like the idea of there being a place where sexuality and romantic leanings are not a huge focus for the characters: I know that I didn’t really focus on dating or sex until my 20s because I was so focused on growing up and my friends/family and figuring out who I was. The media is full of messages which identify romantic relationships as a huge part of defining ones self and, while they are definitely important, I can say from experience that not everyone is focusing on them in their younger years.

  3. “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. They are puppets, not humans.”
    (a.k.a. “Guys! Guys! They’re not real!”)
    Not going to lie, this quotation made me laugh.

    Honestly, I’d like to see a gay family of real people on sesame street. Something kids can recognize as just another family structure.

  4. The idea of ANY of the muppets getting married seriously weirds me out, and like you said, it wouldn’t be right if all of a sudden Bert and Ernie got married, especially after all the denial.
    A gay couple, on the other hand, would make my life. And even if anti-gay parents wouldn’t let their kids watch, there is a part of me that would hope that some kids of those parents would manage to see it before their parents found out, and maybe it would make them think about whether there’s actually anything wrong with being queer.

  5. I dislike the implication that all close friends of the same sex must automatically be gay. If Bert and Ernie are really based off the real life friendship of two guys who were, to the best of our knowledge, NOT lovers, they should just be left that way.

  6. Really?!? Young, impressionable children should be able to discover these things on their own….they DO NOT need it to be forced down their throat. Unbelievable!!! And this is from someone who has 2 gay family members who also agree!

  7. I totally agree with a human same-sex couple being far more appropriate. Sesame Street’s muppets are children, they’re not adults. Bert and Ernie are there for kids to identify with – and this is not something kids can or should identify with. A kid with gay parents isn’t going to be helped by the representation of a childless gay couple.

  8. I wouldn’t be opposed to the idea, but I do think its rather dumb to bring this marriage idea out of nowhere . They’re advertising it as “Let Ernie and Bert Get Married” as if they are not allowed to be married. Maybe they don’t want to be married. MAYBE common-law love is enough for them.

    But srsly though, none of the other characters are married, so aside from being the only gay characters they will also be the only married characters, making them stand out even more.

    I dunno. Its touchy, but I think the idea is a bit dumb and now every bigot is gonna bitch about the gays wanting to take over the world again. I totally agree with the idea of having a human same-sex couple on the show. No altering of old characters, just introductions of new characters.

  9. Sesame Street is a fantastic show. They handle social issues with such grace and gentleness for children. If the show ever did decide to have a gay couple, I have no doubt they would handle it well. Remember when Mr. Hooper died? Heart-wrenching. But they do everything inclusively. It really is secretly (not so secretly?) a very progressive show.

    However, Sesame Street puppets should not be getting married. They are presented to us a children. I don’t know how old Bert and Ernie are supposed to be, but all of the puppets are (I think) supposed to be child age. They have a child-like wonder… they play with rubber duckies. If there was ever a time for Bible-thumpers to rally around the idea that a gay agenda is being pushed, it’s when children’s show puppets are getting gay married.

    Maybe one day a human gay couple can appear on the show. But pushing for Bert and Ernie to get married is taking a funny ha-ha wink-nudge thing and too far into the realm of “stupid and not helpful.”

  10. I dislike the inclusion of the remark stating that gender identity starts forming at age 2-3. What exactly is this based on?

    Your choice of phrasing implies, or at least leaves itself open to the interpretation, that prior to that age gender identity is a blank slate.

    Many people read phrases like “starts forming at…” as being the same thing as “is determined at…”.

    For transsexuals, this contradicts much of the misinformation we’ve been trying to correct, and validates the picture many people have that their child is transgender because of something that they did “wrong” at a young age or something that happened to the child while very young, such as abuse.

    If you simply meant to say that children before this age have a limited grasp of gender in relation themselves, then I believe you should have chosen your words more carefully.

    If you genuinely think that gender identity isn’t “set” until 2-3 and that it’s changeable up to this point, I would highly appreciate you citing sources since you apparently know things that the transgender community does not.

    • Sexual orientation can’t be changed even though it’s formed in early childhood.

      The premise that just because something starts developing after birth it can be changed by outside influences is incorrect. Humans in general aren’t born fully developed. We’re not even born self aware. You can’t changed the future height of a person just because they were only born 18 inches tall.

      Identity is actually how one views themselves in relation to others. A child can have a gender, but maybe not an identity around it.

    • Maybe I’m wrong, but I just read that sentence for what it was meant to say…which is that before 2 or 3 you don’t really have a concept of gender, so you don’t have a set gender identity. I think you’re looking too far into it.

  11. How is this even a thing?
    I love the official response and your response.
    Bert and Ernie honor their friendship. Incidentally, there was once a conversation about them portraying the parent-child relationship. There is plenty written on how the muppets are meant to be easy for children to relate to.

    Relationships were more of a focus in the show before it was reformatted to respond to shorter attention spans. There was Maria dating David (presenting interracial dating), Bob dating Linda (who was deaf), Gordon and Susan were already married, Gordon’s adult sister was around, and there was an older grocer who was like a grandpa figure (Mr. Hooper, who was Jewish). Then Gordon & Susan adopted baby Miles. When you look at the dates of the episodes, it places them among the first to show diversity.

    Point being, if they’re going to do it, a new, human character would have fit well with this earlier vision. Many years later, the show has become an institution and has changed. There’s the very real risk of alienating funders in a time when public television is losing funding as it is. I hope PBS can find a way to honor us while maintaining the integrity of their show and keeping afloat.

  12. Definitely on the boat that Bert and Ernie shouldn’t suddenly be gay and married. I do however think a young gay married couple (human, not muppet) should move into an apartment on the ‘Street and adopt a baby.

    That would say more than marrying two puppets ever could, and really foster diversity that the show has been so great at portraying. There would be some backlash (FotF would have a fucking conniption), but not as much as I think altering two beloved characters to fit a message would.

  13. Being that Sesame Street isn’t really into the whole “romantic couple” thing I don’t think that they should get married. Simply because it wouldn’t go along with the theme of the show. However, I do like the idea of teaching young kids what marriage is with a real-live married couple. Portia and Ellen anyone? :)

    I also like the point you bring up about showing these kids that if there is a same-sex friendship that lives together and then they marry, it may demonstrate that all same-sex friendships are gay. That’s a very good distinction to make.

    All in all, I think that Sesame Street is a wonderful program for young kids. And I’d say that they’ve been doing a phenomenal job thus far. If things shift and Bert and Ernie are ostracized or left out from marriage (assuming of course that it will ever make its way to the program) then we may have a problem.

    But at this very moment, I say, hell Bert and Ernie are the bestest of friends. Kudos for portraying a strong bond between males and having it be just the same as the friendship between Elmo and Zoe.

  14. What about introducing a new muppet on seeame street who has gay parents. This avoids the issue of “marriage” (which might cause some on the religious right to lose their shit) but instead focuses on the experience that kids that age might actually have with gay adults– that they are some kid’s parents.

    They could even use Bert and Ernie to explain how the new characters’ relationship is different than Bert and Ernie’s.

  15. This petition is odd and rather pushy.
    It seems very forced to gay marry Bernie. Adults have spent years with Sesame Street and know of rumors and gaydar, but on the show they are completely platonic. When I was that age, Sesame Street was new to me, I didn’t think of the history of it or the longtime storylines of the characters. Every episode existed in a vacuum and none of the characters ever changed; elmo was always tickly and the one who lived in the trash can was always grumpy… in closing, Bernie were always bros and should stay that way.

  16. I have a lot of feelings… not many of them feel relevant.

    So, back in the day, I had Bert and Ernie stuffed dolls. THEY WENT EVERYWHERE WITH ME. It was a thing. Anyway, one day, Ernie fell into the tub. I was devastated. Apparently, Ernie was “eh-p” (my way of saying wet at the time) and because of this, I made Bert mourn for more than a year.

    A year.

    I had Bert mourn for a freaking year (apparently being wet was like death and I was a dirty kid) and when asked why Ernie didn’t play with Bert, or why I casually mentioned that Bert was “always sad now” it was because Ernie was “eh-p”.

    So, I don’t know about them getting gay married but if it wasn’t for Bert and Ernie, I wouldn’t have made it through my parents divorce very well as a small child.

  17. At a 2005 ABC Brisbane radio interview, Bert responded to the gay question:
    “Oh, you had to ask that question. No, no. In fact, sometimes we are not even friends; he can be a pain in the neck.”
    At a Carnegie-Mellon University interview in 1997, Ernie responded to the gay question:
    “All that stuff about me and Bert? It’s not true. We’re both very happy, but we’re not gay.”

    I imagined the Muppet voices; I laughed/ disturbed my cat.
    I have nothing constructive to add…

  18. “Bert and Ernie are characters who help demonstrate to children that despite their differences, they can be good friends.” uh, i think this is more important for kids to learn first than bert and ernie being gay married.

    also i am more concerned as to how the puppeteers operate bert’s unibrow…

  19. I FOR ONE DEMAND THAT THEY BE MARRIED!!!!11 I AM SO SICK OF SEEING THESE PUPPETS LIVING IN SIN TOGETHER!#%^#q^%@!!!!!111\\

    This is silly. I agree with everyone about including the same-sex human family, and leaving the puppets alone. Or introducing different puppets that are established queers.

    p.s. HIV+ puppet? Who is this and how does that work? I’m immensely surprised and curious.

  20. I was one of those that thought Bert and Ernie were brothers. Possibly half brothers by colouring (e.g. if their mother was dark-skinned and one had a dark-skinned father and the other had a lighter-skinned father) to explain the whole yellow and orange – orange is dark yellow – and their different face shapes, but they dress similar in stripes, hence related.

    But yeah if you’re gonna do gay marriage or whatever do it with the humans.

  21. I grew up thinking Bert and Ernie were a married couple, despite the fact that as far as I can remember the word ‘gay’ was never uttered, even tangentially so, in our house. Yeah. People will read into relationships what they will.

    Whether to make it textual, however, is a definite no. Muppets getting married would be super weird, okay. They’re the kids! An adult human couple (perhaps as parents of a character? within the show the subject of family is way more relevant than the subject of marriage anyway) would be wonderful, though. And the comment above re: Portia and Ellen as guest stars OMG YES

  22. Pingback: Should Bert and Ernie Get Gay Married? – Autostraddle | Can You Get Pregnant Without Sex?

  23. Thank you! The further I read the more it sounded like exactly what I would say to that question, haha. I couldn’t agree more about the importance of “choosing our battles” in a time where the media is powerful leverage and so much is at stake.

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  26. While I do think it should happen, I don’t understand why progressives are focusing all of their political might/media attention on *that* right now. I mean, there are useless wars going on, people dying of starvation everywhere and xenophobia is on the rise pretty much globally. Do we really *need* this thing? I’m not so sure it should be a priority :/

  27. weren’t there lesbians on arthur a few years back? like buster went traveling and they met two lesbians that were life partners and loved each other very much and Christians got angry about it? i seem to remember this from a long time ago

  28. I seriously don’t even get how almost 7 thousand people thought the same thing and joined the facebook group. THEY ARE NOT A COUPLE! The bigger issue is that these people assume that two men living together is obviously a couple. And as mentioned in previous comments…Sesame Street doesn’t deal with relationships. I would be awkwarded out if any of them got married, lol.

  29. I agree that the Bernie thing is kinda ridiculous. A kid with gay parents would be much better. They could have Ellen and Portia, or Neil and David (they could even bring the babies if they were old enough) come on one day.

    What I’d really like to see, though, are some gender-nonconforming characters. Have a boy muppet who likes pink and princesses. Have a girl muppet who likes climbing trees and HATES pink. If the point is to help stop gay bullying, then that’s just as good, if not possibly better. Our society ties up gender and sexuality, so if you teach tolerance towards one, you encourage tolerance towards the other.

  30. You idiots, Bert and Ernie are NOT heterophobes (homosexuals), okay? Also, have you even SEEN where they are in the sky? They are in MOTHER FUCKING ASGARD and they are also walking on Bifrost! Damn, do you stupid fucks not know Asgard when you see it right in front of your fucking faces? They’re also good friends with Odin, Thor, and Heimdall, as well as the rest of the royalty of Asgard. They were there trying to be ambassadors for Sesame Street because some people in Asgard were trying to get their own version of PBS started and some of the Asgardian children had Midgard (Earth) relatives that liked the show, so they were trying to do a solid for those kids. Seriously, go fuck off with your dumb ass LGBT agenda and leave the damn show alone already! You assholes have already done enough damage with Elmo and Kevin Clash and Mr. Noodle.

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