AP: ‘Husband’ or ‘Wife’ Acceptable to Use for All Married Couples, Regardless of Sexual Orientation


A new entry in the AP stylebook, added today:

husband, wife Regardless of sexual orientation, husband or wife is acceptable in all references to individuals in any legally recognized marriage. Spouse or partner may be used if requested.

Said AP Senior Managing Editor for U.S. News Mike Oreskes: "The AP has never had a Stylebook entry on the question of the usage of husband and wife. All the previous conversation was in the absence of such a formal entry. This lays down clear and simple usage. After reviewing existing practice, we are formalizing 'husband, wife' as an entry."

See HERE for background.


  1. Yonah Gefen says

    Sorry, but AP still has opportunity for improvement. If I get “gay married” to my husband in a state that legally recognizes it, but we move to a state without similar law, and one of us passes, then the AP guidelines of “legally recognized marriage” would seem less clear for publishers in one state versus another. Close, but…

  2. DB says

    Finally. This was one of the more blatant examples of homophobia in the media recently. The AP previously allowed a man to call a woman his wife, but did not allow a woman to call a woman her wife. It was a horrific and ridiculous double standard. Now, the AP is accepting reality. God bless GLAAD and all of the activists, consumers, and journalists who stood up against the AP.

  3. Lars says

    I didn’t get what all the fuss was about in the first place. My fiancé and I have decided we won’t use the word ‘husband’ after we are married, primarily because of the antiquated gender roles bound up in the term. It seemed to me that the previous AP policy, which deferred to the terms that any given couple ACTUALLY uses, was perfectly respectful of the myriad ways in which we choose to proceed in these relatively uncharted waters.

  4. GregV says

    This sounds much better, because at least it’s consistent.

    The guidelines still leave me with minor questions, though.
    For example, can a reporter say that “Joe Biden and Hilary Clinton both brought their spouses to the event” or would both of those parties have to “request” to the reporter that “spouse” be used?

    Also, we know now that “husband” and “wife” are “acceptable” terms for legally-recognized couples. But are the terms also acceptable to the AP for couples whose marriages are not legally-recognized?

    Can a Baha’i man in Iran have a “wife” even if the government refuses them a license because of religion? Or will they refer to her as his “wife” only if they emigrate to a place without discrimination?

    Will the AP refer to Elton John’s “husband” David Furnish if they are in Toronto but change the word when the couple is in Atlanta on a particular day?

    Can a polygamist in Utah be said to have “5 wives” if they were married in their church but not legally?

    Can a straight couple who had a wedding but never asked for a license be called husband and wife if that is how they consider themselves?

    It seems that the guidelines are to some extent just stating what should be obvious. (If A husband were to say “please call her my spouse in the report,” why would there be any reason not to?). It says who CAN be called husband or wife but it doesn’t specifically say that anyone should NOT be referred to that way, and it says thst they CAN be referred to as spouses or partners if they request that, but it doesn’t say they can’t be called those terms without a special request.

    Considering that fact, maybe in my examples, the reporter would be allowed to do what makes the most sense in the context.

  5. Stefan says

    RISE: Do you just revel in being a contrarian? One might wonder why you’re spending time commenting on a gay news site read by “gay twits”.

    LARS–I agree. It seemed the better solution would have been to simply remove the automatic husband/wife term across the board. The only legal term where marriage (or civil unions) exist is “spouse” (or “partner”). That applies to couples regardless of sexuality, gender identity, etc. If you feel compelled to go beyond that, then the descriptors used by the couple should apply.

  6. johnny says

    Been around long enough to have gone through the “lover” instead of “partner” phase. When partner came into vogue, I liked it a lot more. Partner sounded permanent, lover sounded like a week or so might be the most you could hope for. I still like partner, but will use husband eventually.

  7. Aiden Raccoon says

    This was one of the dumbest non-stories in gay news we’ve had to date. The AP has said from the beginning that if the partner of a gay couple is referred to as a husband then they will report it as husband. The only say “partner” if they don’t know the marital status of the gay couple. This isn’t that unreasonable of an expectation.

  8. voet says

    I think some folks are making an inaccurate distinction. In 2008 my husband and I were legally married in California. While same sex couples cannot legally marry at the present time in California and we reside in a state that does not recognize our marriage, we are still legally married. When marriage is universally recognized in this country, we will not have to re-marry. It is just that the rest of the country will finally recognize what already exists.

  9. says

    The fuss was using the vague term partner as the default word for married gay couples when it is much clearer, not to mention fairer, to use husband and wife as the default words for all married couples regardless of sexual orientation. It doesn’t mean we all have to use those words in our own relationships–though I like husband and have come to hate partner–just as some heterosexual couples use the word partner instead of husband or wife, but there is no good reason for the AP to have a double standard. My state marriage license is no different than my heterosexual neighbor’s.

  10. JJ says

    Exactly wrong, @Aiden. The very first words of the guideline were: “We were asked how to report about same-sex couples who call themselves ‘husband’ and ‘wife.'” The standard policy was “AP uses couples or partners to describe people in civil unions or same-sex marriages.” It was never about couples whose status is unknown. WTF?

  11. John says

    I completely disagree with the notion of this having been a “non-story.” If you do PR for the AP, it’s your job to say it was a non-story. If you’re a gay working professional who has to edit copy per AP style guidelines, you would see with crystal clarity that their policy was beyond air-headed and clearly bigoted. Wake-up Aiden, and anyone else who thinks AP was playing innocent up until now!

  12. T.J says

    I hate the word partners. Glad they reversed this and are treating married same sex couples fairly and equally.

  13. Brian says

    A gay married man has a husband

    And a gay married women has a wife.

    AP now realizes this. They made something that didn’t need to be complicated…complicated.