Did the New Yorker just out Bert and Ernie?

Over the years, Sesame Workshop has repeatedly denied that puppet roommates Bert and Ernie are a gay couple — but in the wake of the Supreme Court’s ruling on the Defense of Marriage Act this week, the duo is back in the spotlight.

The New Yorker (known for controversial covers) just posted next week’s issue, showing Bert and Ernie cuddling in front of a TV as the nine justices are shown on the screen. Titled “Bert and Ernie’s Moment of Joy,” the image comes from artist Jack Hunter, who said, “This is great for our kids, a moment we can all celebrate.”

While people have long speculated about the sexual orientation of the puppets on the beloved children’s show, Sesame Workshop has re-iterated multiple times that they are, in fact, just friends. Most recently in 2011, after a tweet that some assumed was a sly way of implying Bert was out of the closet, the company said no. “Bert and Ernie are best friends,” said Sesame Workshop in a statement. “Even though they are identified as male characters and possess many human traits…they remain puppets, and do not have a sexual orientation.”

Sesame Workshop has not responded to e-mails or phone calls about the New Yorker cover. When asked for comment, PBS directed us to Sesame Workshop for a response.

It makes sense if PBS wants to shy away from an issue about same-sex couples. In 2005, the public television station was at the center of major controversy when an episode of the cartoon “Postcards From Buster” featured children with lesbian parents. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings denounced the episode and wrote, “Congress and the Department’s purpose in funding this programming certainly was not to introduce this kind of subject matter to children.” Her letter incited furious responses, but PBS wound up pulling the episode.

A week later, PBS president and CEO Pat Mitchell announced she would step down at the end of her contract (though she said it had nothing to do with the “Buster” incident).