Although Sesame Street‘s creators have never said the two characters are gay, viewers have long speculated that roommates Bert and Ernie are more than just friends.
Perhaps a new petition, started by Illinois resident Lair Scott, was prompted by the changing tide in the U.S.: in June, New York became the sixth — and largest — state to legalize same-sex marriage. Or maybe people just want Sesame Street to continue with its progressive message, which has seen the show deal with the sensitive topics of race, death and self-acceptance. Some people might think that if Archie Comics can introduce its first gay character, then Sesame Street, which celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2009, should certainly let its two “gayest” characters marry.
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Opponents of the petition say that having Bert and Ernie marry all of a sudden could confuse children who may never have caught on to the rumors. Would children then think that men who live together must be gay? Other critics say the move would be too political for a children’s program, because these are in fact Muppets we’re talking about — none of which are married or even in romantic relationships. The show is, after all, supposed to be about ABCs and 123s. But 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.
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Scott, the petition creator, believes that allowing the characters to marry or introducing a transgender character could help bullied and struggling LGBT kids “know that they ARE BEAUTIFUL and their lives are worth living.” So far, more than 700 other people agree.
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Frances Romero is a writer-reporter at TIME. Find her on Twitter at @frances_romero. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.