Sesame Street Producers: Bert And Ernie Won’t Be Getting Married, And They’re Not Gay

Not that there's anything wrong with that.

Earlier this week, news broke of a Facebook-based petition campaign to convince the producers of Sesame Street to have it’s two live-together male Muppets, Bert and Ernie, get married in apparent celebration of the recent legalization of same-sex marriage in New York:

Will the Children’s Television Workshop give way to same-sex puppet love?

An online campaign is calling for the producers of TV’s “Sesame Street” to allow characters Bert and Ernie to get married in an attempt to “put an end to the bullying and suicides of LGBT youth”, according to the group’s Facebook page.

The petition letter adds that “[w]e are not asking that Sesame Street do anything crude or disrespectful by allowing Bert & Ernie to marry”, suggesting that the show “even add a transgender character to the show…in a tasteful way”.

While over 900 people have “liked” the group’s Facebook page so far, the comments from visitors are fueling the controversy over whether children should be exposed to homosexuality at such an early age — echoing a similar battle over proposed gay-oriented curriculum in California schools.

“This is not ‘Desperate Housewives’…this is a baby’s program people!” said one commenter.

Well, not a baby’s program, really. I’d say that Sesame Street is a program for toddlers, pre-schoolers, and kids in kindergarten. Nonetheless, the point of that commentator was apparently shared by others, since the original petition was followed by competing Facebook petitions:

There were alternate petitions also waiting on the website, They included: “Stop Bert and Ernie from getting married”; “Stop the senseless false labeling of these two best friends”; and “Leave Bert and Ernie alone.” You could take your pick from those or nearly two dozen more.

Or you could just tweet about it. On Thursday, “Bert & Ernie” was a trending Twitter topic.

One tweet wondered why so much attention was being showered on Bert and Ernie’s domestic status, when poor Oscar the Grouch remains on the curb, dwelling in a garbage can.

Another tweet questioned why SpongeBob and Patrick seem above any suspicion, just because they maintain separate residences.

The producers of the show chimed in last night (via Facebook), and threw cold water on any marriage plans for the two apparently confirmed bachelors:

Bert and Ernie are best friends.  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.

Julian Sanchez laments the producers decision:

It’s worth pointing out, I think, that the (presumably somewhat tongue-in-cheek) observation that puppets “do not have a sexual orientation” is just manifestly false. Lots of the puppets on Sesame Street are portrayed as having a “sexual orientation,” insofar as they’re shown in romantic couples.

Oscar has his girlfriend Grundgetta. The Count has been involved with a series of different Countesses. The Twiddlebugs are your standard nuclear family. And of course, there are no shortage of one-off songs and sketches centered on families or unmarried couples. Muppet squirrel girl groups sing about their boyfriends. And, of course, human characters Maria and Luis got married on the show.

What all of these have in common, of course, is that they’re heterosexual couples. Because it’s regarded as the default, that “sexual orientation” is invisible. But, of course, it’s still there—and nobody imagines that simply depicting all these straight couples and families somehow counts as injecting inappropriate “adult” or sexualized material into a children’s show.

What Sesame Street gives us, then, is a picture of reality (in New York, of all places) where loving coupled relationships are exclusively presented as heterosexual. That exclusion is a choice. And the implicit message sent by that choice is that the very existence of same-sex couples is, like swearing or violent street crime, an aspect of urban reality that’s inappropriate for children to be exposed to, unlike all the normal, unremarkable heterosexual couplings depicted on the show

Now I haven’t watched Sesame Street since I was something in the range of five years-old, so I was unaware that either Oscar or The Count (whose name, I learned from Wikipedia is Count von Count, by the way) had significant others, I also have no idea who the “squirrel girls” are. I suppose that, on some level Sanchez has a point about the fact that all the relationships depicted on the show are heterosexual, which is something that doesn’t necessarily depict the reality of family life in New York City, or elsewhere for that matter. However, I’ve got to agree with Allahpundit when he points out that the mission of Sesame Street doesn’t really have much to do teaching children about sexuality at any level:

I haven’t watched kiddie TV in 30 years, but from what I remember there were two basic messages: (1) here’s how to count to 10, and (2) we should be nice to people and accept them for who they are, however superficially different they might be. The gay-rights movement has done pretty well recently despite the fact that we all had to cope as kids with the terrible ambiguity in the relationship of two puppets on a show best known for a giant androgynous bird and some angry creature that lives in a garbage can. Besides, most of the grade-schoolers watching Sesame Street right now will be watching “Glee” in a few years. Any gay-hate bred into them by Grover or the Count or whoever will be undone soon enough.

To be fair, Sanchez doesn’t say that the producers should have acceded to the demands of petitioners that Bert and Ernie tie the knot; just that they should be more mindful of how they depict relationships given changing times. Perhaps he has a point there. When I watched Sesame Street in the 70s, there was an entire African-American family among the cast. The thing is, they didn’t make his race a subject of any of the little plots that would unfold. They were just regular characters. Perhaps that’s how Sesame Street can, someday, deal with this issue. Forcing the issue, though, by having two long standing characters get married as a gimmick would be confusing even for a three year old and would serve no real purpose other than creating the kind of controversy that the show has always tried to avoid.

So, for the record, Bert and Ernie aren’t gay. At least one of them does have an affinity for bath toys, though:

FILED UNDER: Entertainment, Popular Culture
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook


  1. steve says:

    Undercutting the Bert and Ernie are not gay meme, there are rumors that they have been seen hanging out at trendy NYC nightclubs with the Teletubbies.


  2. hey norm says:

    I can’t make a comment until Jan weighs in with the homophobic Tea Stain Republican stand.

  3. Jay Tea says:

    As I said on my own blog — if they wanted Sesame Street to really, really reflect a significant portion of the American public that hasn’t been shown and get really, really edgy and thought-provoking, they’d have a Christian muppet.

    Kermit saying “Today’s show is sponsored by the letter J, and the numbers 3 and 16!

    Big Bird explaining why Easter is so important to him.

    Grover reading a Bible.

    Elmo with a crucifix.

    Nah… that’s too edgy. Never mind that outside the entertainment industry, there are a lot more Christians than gays.


  4. mike says:

    Thank god – I love Ernie, always have – he deserves so much better than Bert – I still have a shot

  5. @Jay Tea:

    Of course that isn’t what Sesame Street is about.

    Looking for children’s programming with a religious bent, there’s Davey & Goliath

  6. hey norm says:

    Actually JTea there are almost no Christians. There are a lot of people who talk about being Christian. Almost none of them walk the walk.

  7. hey norm says:

    Mike wins.

  8. @Jay Tea:

    Oh what a suprise. Jay starts yapping about something he knows nothing about.

  9. Jay Tea says:

    @Stormy Dragon: I’ll be danged, Stormy. But as neither a Christian nor a Sesame Street watcher, I’m not surprised that slipped past me.

    Wait a sec… looking through the comments…

    That’s a clip from a Sesame Street holiday special, that featured several kinds of religious and quasi-religious celebrations, including Ramadan and Kwanzaa. NOT quite the same as having a regular character be a Christian.

    As Monica Lewinsky said, “close, but no cigar.”


  10. rodney dill says:

    They aren’t gay. Bert is just in his 40’s and Ernie is perennially 11. You do the math.

  11. @Jay Tea:

    And Jay moves his goalposts, because having occasional references to religion doesn’t count. It has to be all Jesus all the time!

  12. An Interested Party says:

    Big Bird explaining why Easter is so important to him.

    Because he knows that on that particular day, ham is on the menu rather than him…

  13. mantis says:

    Despite an abundance of Christian-themed children’s programming, Jay Tea wants Sesame Street, a program produced by PBS, which gets at least some government funding, to push a particular religion. Good thinking.

  14. Gustopher says:

    The producers of Sesame Street can say Bert and Ernie aren’t gay, but that’s no more convincing than Bachmann’s husband (Maurice? Bruce? Marion? Prancer? I can’t remember) saying he isn’t gay. We all know it isn’t true.

  15. Franklin says:

    @Jay Tea: I had to give you a +1 for the Lewinsky comment, somehow I’ve never heard that one before.

  16. Restless says:

    The entertainment industry knows the obvious: putting “Christian” in front of any form of popular entertainment is like hitting a switch that says “suck.” Nobody wants to see a born-again Kermit the Frog; there’s no deep-seated public desire to see a Pentecostal Elmo or a purity ball Miss Piggy or a glazed-eye megachurchin’ Snuffleupagus. Don’t be silly.

  17. MBunge says:

    What I’m curious about is that this call to gay marry Bert and Ernie is in service to “put an end to the bullying and suicides of LGBT youth”. There’s been a buttload of talk recently about bullying, based on sexual orientation or not, but I’m not sure I’ve ever seen anyone answer two basic questions.

    1. Is bullying worse now than in the past?

    2. If it is, why?


  18. Jay Tea says:

    @Stormy Dragon: Goalposts are right where I first planted them — a Christian character. Note that the examples I cited were all prominent regular characters.

    Anyone want to argue that there are more gay Americans than Christian Americans? If folks want to make Sesame Street “more like real America” (which I think would be a bad thing, and apparently quite a few here agree), then that should be relevant.

    It’d be fun to extend the theme to the non-Sesame muppets. Crazy Harry, the Mad Bomber, is OBVIOUSLY Muslim. Jewish Muppets? Gonzo (look at that nose!) and Scooter (his uncle owns the theatre). Beaker is definitely a Scientologist.

    And the Swedish Chef — ever seen a more likely Pastafarian?


  19. mantis says:

    Crazy Harry, the Mad Bomber, is OBVIOUSLY Muslim. Jewish Muppets? Gonzo (look at that nose!)


  20. hey norm says:

    What religion is The Count?

  21. mike says:
  22. hey norm says:

    I had an aluminum bat I was quite fond of…worship is a bit strong.

  23. rodney dill says:

    And Gonzo is really into a “Chick-sa” as per Camilla.

  24. @Jay Tea:

    Several of the characters are Christian. Maria and Luis had a Christian wedding on the show. Kermit and Piggy likewise had a Christian wedding, albeit in one of their movies. The thing is, that like most real world Christians, it’s not something that comes up on a day to day basis. We also know that Mr. Hooper was Jewish.

    I wouldn’t be suprised if, for example, Rosita was Catholic. (In fact I assumed that was the reason she was Mary in the Christmas pagent). And Guy Smiley is probably Jewish.

  25. rodney dill says:

    @hey norm:

    What religion is The Count?


  26. @hey norm:

    What religion is The Count?

    A Seventh Day Adventist, duh! 😉

  27. Restless says:

    I give up: why is Crazy Harry the Mad Bomber obviously Muslim

  28. hey norm says:

    good one Stormy

  29. MM says:

    Gotta love how even in a whimsical thread, Jay Tea can be counted on to let us know how very oppressed he is.

  30. An Interested Party says:

    …Jay Tea can be counted on to let us know how very oppressed he is.

    Is it any wonder that he prays at the alter of Saint Sarah of Wasilla…

  31. Jay Tea says:

    @MM: You know it, MM. I DEMAND that “my people,” the agnostics, be represented, too!


  32. Jay Tea says:

    @Stormy Dragon: DAMN, I can’t believe I missed that one. And I actually thought about the Count, too. Well played, sir. Very well played.


  33. Brett says:

    I can vaguely remember watching “Sesame Street” as a 5-6-year-old boy. I always thought that Bert and Ernie were brothers living together.

  34. eh whatever says:

    In the discussion of Bert & Ernie… I’m reminded of a joke on a similar theme;

    Jamie invited her mother over to her house for dinner. Over the course of the evening, Jamie’s mom started to wonder if there was more between Jamie and her roommate than met the eye. She had long been suspicious of her daughter’s sexuality, and watching them interact made her more curious. Reading her mom’s thoughts, Jamie volunteered, “I know what you must be thinking, but I assure you, Sandy and I are just roommates.”

    About a week later, Sandy came to Jamie and said, “Ever since your mother came to dinner, I’ve been unable to find my favorite gravy ladle. You don’t suppose she took it, do you?”

    Jamie said, “Well, I doubt it, but I’ll write her a letter just to be sure.” So she sat down and wrote: “Dear Mother, I’m not saying you ‘did’ take a gravy ladle from my house, and I’m not saying you ‘did not’ take a gravy ladle. But the fact remains that one has been missing ever since you were here for dinner.”

    Several days later, Jamie received a letter from her mother which read: “Dear Daughter, I’m not saying that you ‘do’ sleep with Sandy, and I’m not saying that you ‘do not’ sleep with Sandy. But the fact remains that if she was sleeping in her own bed, she would have found the gravy ladle by now.”