Gay Marriage | News

AP Digs in Heels on Discriminatory 'Husband' and 'Wife' Guidance

The Associated Press is digging in its heels regarding guidance on how to refer to gay married couples that is being widely seen as discriminatory.

ApOn Tuesday we reported on new guidelines sent out by the Associated Press, indicating that the words "husband" and "wife" should only be used to describe married gay couples if the couples themselves describe themselves that way, or if someone uses the term in a quote.

They wrote:

SAME-SEX COUPLES: We were asked how to report about same-sex couples who call themselves “husband” and “wife.” Our view is that such terms may be used in AP content if those involved have regularly used those terms (“Smith is survived by his husband, John Jones”) or in quotes attributed to them. Generally AP uses couples or partners to describe people in civil unions or same-sex marriages.

Last night we reported that the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association published an open letter to the AP saying it found the guidance "troubling":

What is troubling is the final sentence in the memo: "Generally AP uses couples or partners to describe people in civil unions or same-sex marriages."

Such guidance may be appropriate for referring to people in civil unions, for which there are no established terms and the language is still evolving, but it suggests a double standard for same-sex individuals in legally recognized marriages. One has to assume that AP would never suggest that the default term should be "couples" or "partners" when describing people in opposite-sex marriages. We strongly encourage you to revise the style advisory to make it clear that writers should use the same terms for married individuals, whether they are in a same-sex or opposite-sex marriage.

Language choices like these have an impact. Such reporting can reinforce the idea that marriages between same-sex individuals are fundamentally different from marriages between a man and a woman.

Buzzfeed's Chris Geidner reports that the AP is holding firm:

AP spokesman Paul Colford told BuzzFeed Thursday evening, "This week's style guidance reaffirmed AP's existing practice. We've used husband and wife in the past for same-sex married couples and have made clear that reporters can continue to do so going forward."

If this is the case, however, why don't they update their guidance, or make that more clear?

The organization is lying, says John Aravosis:

He tried to make it look like AP reporters are free to use husband and wife to describe gay couples whenever they want.  And if that were the case, then why does AP have a style guideline that completely contradicts that assertion?  And if reporters are fine using husband and wife whenever they wish, then why is AP refusing to get rid of the contradictory style guideline?  Not to mention, why have the style guideline at all if AP is now suggesting that its reporters never obey the style guideline anyway?...

...Until the Associated Press can provide a convincing argument for why it has set up a separate-but-equal style guideline to describe the “difference” between one person’s legal marriage and another person’s legal marriage, simply because one spouse is gay and the other straight, this problem will not go away, and in fact, it’s going to get a lot worse.

We are never going to agree to disagree about whether the Associated Press has the right to vitiate our legal marriages simply because the people who write AP’s style guidance either find gay people icky; or are incapable of admitting they made a mistake, and then correcting it.

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Comments

  1. I have to agree with AP. Most gay men who refer to their "husband" do so in quotation marks. Not because they don't regard him as their spouse, but because it's such a precious affect that they would otherwise be embarrassed to be thought to be emulating heterosexual dynamics of husband and wife.

    Personally, I think we would do well to borrow from Klingon on this one. I would take pleasure in introducing Gregg Avedon as my parmaki.

    Posted by: David Hearne | Feb 15, 2013 11:17:27 AM


  2. @ David Hearne

    So is there now a vast number of gay married couples purposely NOT using the terminology of "husbands" or "wives" as some kind of inherently political semantics act that I wasn't aware of?

    I thought I had everything figured out about this from the last three AP stories but now I'm even more confused. Now I have a migraine. Ugh.

    Posted by: Leo | Feb 15, 2013 11:23:03 AM


  3. I would have expected the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association to write more carefully. There are same-sex marriages and there are different-sex marriages.

    But opposite-sex marriages? How very 1950s!

    Male and female are no more opposites than salt and pepper.

    Posted by: Chuckles | Feb 15, 2013 11:23:22 AM


  4. What a load of made up crap. It's a style guide... so....

    1) IT WILL NOT BE USED, HAVE YOU SEEN A NEWSPAPER LATELY?

    2) It fully allows for any logical label a person could give another person. If they call each other husband/wife then it is fine to use in an article.

    3) This is a guide designed to help reporters make concise, direct statements without confusing people. If you actually pick up the guide and look in it, it has TONS of these things for damn near everything. All the AP is really saying here is that the gendered forms relationship words can be misleading in our current world.

    John Avavosis needs to punch himself.

    Posted by: Fensox | Feb 15, 2013 11:34:52 AM


  5. @ Fensox

    I agree and would add that the AP as well as every other news agency (especially Gannett) would do well to have remedial classes in English and composition for their writers. Not only do they violate rules of good writing (like introducing characters before using pronouns) but their grammar and punctuation suggest that they have all attended District of Columbia public schools.

    Posted by: David Hearne | Feb 15, 2013 11:46:37 AM


  6. On John Aravosis, a politician is a politician. Gay or otherwise.

    Conformity is not equality. Gay couples wishing to address their better-half as husband or wife are completely entitled to do so.

    However, it is a totally different thing to be making this fuss, going after AP's completely legitimate guidance. Even if all news outputs are forced to introduce gay partners as 'husbands or wives', it is not equality, and it is not conducive of equality. Not only are these words themselves carry the connotations of thousands of years of gender inequality and repression.

    The LGBTI community has its unique culture and its unique history. Real equality includes full awareness and respect for these facts, and should allow them to prosper.

    Posted by: czchu | Feb 15, 2013 12:13:06 PM


  7. Here's the AP email for feedback:

    info@ap.org

    Posted by: Benjamin22b | Feb 15, 2013 12:51:06 PM


  8. @David: No married gay men I know of (myself included) refer to their husband in quotation marks. They call their husband their husband because it is accurate. Nothing particularly precious about that.

    Posted by: Ernie | Feb 15, 2013 12:58:32 PM


  9. @David Hearne/CZCHU
    If same-sex couples didn't want to be referred to as husband or wife they wouldn't have gotten married.
    The problem with AP's stance is that it suggests a double standard for same-sex couples. They should use the same terms for married individuals, whether they are gay or straight, period.

    Posted by: Peter M. | Feb 15, 2013 2:44:42 PM


  10. Refer to my husband as "husband" in quotation marks? That's ridiculous. He's my husband, both legally and in reality, and it's the only term that makes sense for a man who is married.

    AP is wrong here, and they will change.

    Posted by: Michael Wills | Feb 15, 2013 2:52:48 PM


  11. Dear confused anti-assimilationists:

    Accepting the oppressor's double standard on the oppressor's terms is not the same as rejecting the oppressor's standard and defining your own.

    Posted by: JJ | Feb 15, 2013 3:34:01 PM


  12. To @David Hearne's point, most gay people who use the term "husband" in quotes do so when they are not legally married. Those who are legally married don't use the scare quotes.

    This isn't about whether AP should call gay people's partners or boyfriends as "husbands." This is about the fact that they have instructed thousands of journalists -- those who work for AP and the many more who work for companies that follow AP style -- to not use the term "husband" or "wife" even for legally married same sex couples unless the couple is specifically known to use the term themselves, or it's a direct quote. The default is to NOT use the term. That's wrong.

    Posted by: Kevin_BGFH | Feb 15, 2013 5:13:23 PM


  13. Leo,

    Actually there have been a number of people over the years who rejected the use of "husband and husband". They saw it as cloying. They saw it as oppressive behavior. They thought we should have our own terminology.

    Posted by: David Hearne | Feb 15, 2013 9:33:41 PM


  14. Leo,

    Actually there have been a number of people over the years who rejected the use of "husband and husband". They saw it as cloying. They saw it as oppressive behavior. They thought we should have our own terminology.

    Posted by: David Hearne | Feb 15, 2013 9:33:42 PM


  15. Well, not over so many years, David, since gay couples haven't been able to marry for many years. Some straight married couples also reject the words "husband" and "wife," as is their prerogative, but their personal choices aren't reflected in AP guidelines because AP guidelines are about commonly accepted words. And the commonly accepted word for a married man is "husband" and for a married woman is "wife." There is no reason that the same standard shouldn't be used for married gay couples, especially since most married gay couples use the word themselves rather than some invented word.

    Posted by: Ernie | Feb 16, 2013 10:02:05 AM


  16. Ernie

    The first gay couple to legally marry in the US did so in the 1970's. Others have "held forth to the community as married" both before and after it was briefly legal and then legal again.

    While claiming that "husband" is the only appropriate term for a married man, you ignore that husband is the term for the spouse of a woman. Husband and wife are not independent terms. So when one refers to his husband, it's not unreasonable nor uncommon for the listener to assume that he sees himself as the wife. This is the objective view of these words, your wishful thinking and white picket fences notwithstanding.

    Posted by: David Hearne | Feb 16, 2013 10:58:19 AM


  17. Ernie

    The first gay couple to legally marry in the US did so in the 1970's. Others have "held forth to the community as married" both before and after it was briefly legal and then legal again.

    While claiming that "husband" is the only appropriate term for a married man, you ignore that husband is the term for the spouse of a woman. Husband and wife are not independent terms. So when one refers to his husband, it's not unreasonable nor uncommon for the listener to assume that he sees himself as the wife. This is the objective view of these words, your wishful thinking and white picket fences notwithstanding.

    Posted by: David Hearne | Feb 16, 2013 10:58:26 AM


  18. Not only do my husband and I call each other unquoted husbands, it's freakin' delightful every time we do. Every time.

    Posted by: Mousie | Feb 16, 2013 11:45:54 AM


  19. Language evolves, David, and with gay couples marrying and widely using the words "husband" and "wife" the idea that they cannot be used independent of one another fails to match with the contemporary culture. Within a short time, despite the AP's reluctance to make the jump, the use of husband and husband, wife and wife, will be standard. It has nothing to do with wishful thinking on my part but rather with the obvious cultural trajectory. That doesn't mean that all couples are obligated to use the terms for themselves. You can call your husband "snookidoodles" if you want to, but it's unlikely to see print.

    Posted by: Ernie | Feb 16, 2013 12:03:31 PM


  20. I don't understand why they are doubling down on this. Who is it making this call? I want to know what kind of organizations this person is involved with in his/her everyday life.

    Posted by: aneas taint | Feb 16, 2013 4:47:29 PM


  21. Personally, when I am speaking with people I know I usually refer to my same-sex married partner as my husband. When talking with other people I refer to him as my spouse. Why can't the AP use the term spouse in all of its commentaries? Or use husband or wife when the couple has used those terms to describe their relationship?

    Posted by: Michael | Feb 20, 2013 7:50:46 PM


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