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AP Restricts Use of 'Husband' and 'Wife' to Married Hetero Couples

According to a new memo from the AP, 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, Romenesko reports.

The AP memo: Ap

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.

Asks John Aravosis:

Is that AP’s standard for straight couples too?  Only call straight people husband and wife if the couple calls themselves husband and wife?  I doubt it....Why does it matter if gay people uses the terms husband and wife to define their legal marriage if AP doesn’t have the same standard for straight couples – AP doesn’t say if the couple is straight they’ll only call them husband and wife if “those involved have regularly used those terms.”  So why the different standard for legal gay marriages?  Because AP doesn’t think gay marriages are legit, and certainly not equal to straight marriages.

WTF does “those involved” mean?  It’s a marriage.  It’s not an involvement.

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  1. Associated Press editors are once again disturbingly misguided on a gay issue.

    Posted by: Kyle | Feb 12, 2013 2:48:51 PM

  2. My mother asked me this same awkward question and I laughed just as much at her as I did just now at the AP. Its husband and husband or wife and wife. Duh.

    Posted by: Gordito | Feb 12, 2013 2:49:43 PM

  3. When AP advised against the word "homophobia" (and related terms), I sort of shrugged. Yeah, it tends to be divisive and distracting even when justified. (But no one complains about "xenophobia." I wonder what AP policy is on that word.)

    Now, we just have to assume that the AP Style Guide has been taken over by anti-gay activists, or to use the word that the AP advises against, homophobes.

    Posted by: John D | Feb 12, 2013 2:51:19 PM

  4. ... Am I reading this wrong or what? My assumption here is they are talking about how to refer to COUPLES (regardless of legal marital status) to be respectful of the terms those couples use - IE, I might call my boyfriend of 10 years my husband even if the state of South Carolina doesn't recognize us as legally married.

    It sounds to me more like they're trying to be respectful rather than discriminate.

    Posted by: Josh | Feb 12, 2013 2:51:21 PM

  5. Yep, it's homophobia- oh wait, they don't allow that term either.

    I think we need to find out who, exactly, writes these memos.

    Posted by: Hank | Feb 12, 2013 2:53:18 PM

  6. This honestly confuses me. Are they doing this because they don't see same-sex marriages as legitimate? Is this an over-PC decision? How do they know if an opposite-sex couple is married, are they going to be asking couples if they're married when giving a report?

    It seems unnecessary more than hateful.

    Posted by: Francis | Feb 12, 2013 2:57:12 PM

  7. It's not that the AP is restricting the use of "husband" and "wife" from same-sex couples, rather they are using a higher standard of evidence to use those terms for same-sex couples in that they need some evidence that the people in the marriage needed to have used those terms at some point. Actually, for AP, the couple does not have to have been actually married; if they used the terms, then AP will use the terms.

    I think they should add that if the couple was legally married at some point, no matter where they lived at the time, they should be referred to as married, and probably should use the "husband" and "wife" moniker.

    They generally use the term partner for gay couples, but they aren't restricted in using "husband" and "wife" if indeed that couple were married or referred to themselves as married.

    Posted by: JFE | Feb 12, 2013 2:57:21 PM

  8. I agree with Josh--it didn't strike me as discriminatory at all. I think the AP is simply trying to align their usage with whatever the couple uses, regardless of marital status.

    Posted by: Joel | Feb 12, 2013 2:59:22 PM

  9. I think things like this are transitional. Of course we are working toward equal treatment, but in this case, I think it shows thoughtful consideration of ALL gay couples who are caught up in the many current variations of marriage. There will come a time (hopefully in the near future) when incidental social rules like this are no longer necessary. Until then I appreciate the APs consideration.

    Posted by: Louis | Feb 12, 2013 3:03:11 PM

  10. You'd think the AP would have learned from the New York Times. For those who don't remember, the policy of the Times was to use the term "homosexual" unless they were directly quoting someone using the term "gay."

    That said, I do have some sympathy for the AP guide, depending on where it came from. Specifically, because gay people have not been able to get married, the terms gay people use are often used specifically to point out that distinction. They don't want to be referred to as "wife" or "husband" because that's connected to straight relationships and they don't want any part of that.

    So, to that end, I can understand why the AP would want to defer to the terms the people use for themselves. But, without any clarification from the AP as to why they chose this policy, it's all-too-easy to read homophobia into the decision.

    Posted by: Rrhain | Feb 12, 2013 3:04:14 PM

  11. Oh. Yeah I had Josh's reaction as well. A lot of gay couples consider themselves married even in jurisdictions that don't legally allow/recognize it; I thought AP was trying to make space for them.

    Posted by: Lars | Feb 12, 2013 3:05:00 PM

  12. I did'nt read it as discrimantory at all. Seemed like a nice sensible policy to me.

    Posted by: Ethan | Feb 12, 2013 3:07:43 PM

  13. Didn't sound discriminatory to me either. We're not being overly sensitive, are we?

    Posted by: mastik8 | Feb 12, 2013 3:12:54 PM

  14. @Josh It's apparently against their policy to refer to married same-sex couples as husbands or wives without meeting criteria that married opposite-sex couples won't have to meet. A marriage certificate, a wedding and/or simply saying you're married aren't sufficient according to this policy but only for same-sex couples.

    Posted by: Kyle | Feb 12, 2013 3:13:18 PM

  15. On the surface it does sound like they want to be considerate, but it is indeed ridiculous to not use the words husbands or wife if the couple is married. It's one thing to use it if the couple isn't married but they still call themselves husbands/wives. But if they are married, then there is absolutely no need for any additional checks.

    Posted by: Steve | Feb 12, 2013 3:13:38 PM

  16. I like the word spouse.

    Posted by: Anthony | Feb 12, 2013 3:20:33 PM

  17. AP has been ruled by right wing forces for some time. That is why you see outrageously biased stories pop up constantly on various news feeds.

    Posted by: niles | Feb 12, 2013 3:21:02 PM

  18. Two people are either married or they're not. Married is a legal status, not a "feeling". If a couple is married, the people in the marriage are husbands or wives.

    I don't need AP muddling people's understanding by calling gay couples "married" when they aren't.

    Posted by: BobN | Feb 12, 2013 3:22:29 PM

  19. "..."husband” and "wife["]...may be used in AP content if those involved have regularly used those terms or in quotes attributed to them. Generally AP uses couples or partners to describe people in civil unions or same-sex marriages."

    This implies that the AP will default to "partner" for spouses known to be in a same-sex marriage, even a legally sanctioned one. That's incongruous with their policy dealing with spouses in opposite-sex marriages.

    Posted by: Kyle | Feb 12, 2013 3:23:28 PM

  20. Well, for lack of a better term that all can use, husband or wife should be used in all cases at all times.

    However, despite modern definitions...husband was originally a term for "master of the house" used literally to identify individuals with property. You are a husband if you manage your property appropriately...including your "wife."

    Wife on the other hand merely means woman...particularly a woman joined to a man in marriage (she has no identity of her own).

    NEITHER fit the modern definition of either word.

    So...what is AP's issue?

    Posted by: Jay | Feb 12, 2013 3:39:16 PM

  21. This, to me, is a non story. Let's get our heads out of our asses and look at the bigger picture here.

    Gay couples, married, civil unioned, or whatever, have a tendency to call each other different things. I am not married, I've been with my boyfriend for over 5 years, and I refer to him as my "partner". I have friends who were legally married that call each other "partner" or "husband" depending on the mood or situation. Gay people, even though we strive for equality, are always going to be different, even when we eventually achieve it. We are not the norm, and that is OK. Because we are not the norm, than in my mind, it is ok for us to get special instructions on how to properly and politely refer to our marriages. Everyone is different, and gay marriages are different than the "norm" of heterosexual marriages. Off the top of your head, how many different ways can you think of a husband and wife refer to each other in a legal sense? Can you see where I'm going with this? I don't see the AP as being bigoted or right wing in the slightest. It is just trying to make sure that the rules for writing about gay marriages are clear, that any amateur AP writer won't make a discriminatory statement about gay marriages and their partners/husbands/wives/etc.

    Posted by: Robert | Feb 12, 2013 3:42:00 PM

  22. The problem is that, while English hardly ever uses grammatical gender, "husband" is usually taken to be masculine and "wife" is usually taken to be feminine. Compare, for example, the sentences, "My wife ate her lunch," and "My wife ate his lunch." The latter would suggest that the lunch of some third party was eaten.

    So, the AP does have a legitimate stylistic issue to the extent that the goal is avoid ambiguous statements.

    Posted by: Bill | Feb 12, 2013 3:47:22 PM

  23. I'm pretty certain this is due to the genderphobic pronoun nazis.

    Posted by: me | Feb 12, 2013 4:41:38 PM

  24. @BILL: Huh? You're acting as if the terms "wife" and "husband" are expressed in reference to the partner. That is, as if "wife" is "someone married to a man."

    That isn't the way the terms are defined. Instead, they refer to the person referenced: A "wife" is a "married woman." Thus, there is never any confusion to refer to "my wife." That phrase says nothing about your gender. It simply points out that you are married to a woman.

    Posted by: Rrhain | Feb 12, 2013 4:43:03 PM

  25. This is an unsettled issue in law as the laws vary by state, and the AP may be accommodating the regional biases of the news organizations who are their members. Don't forget that it was only recently that a few Southern newspapers started printing gay wedding announcements. It's like the Boy Scouts solution of letting troops in different areas of the country decide. Confusing, unsettled. But the laws are also confusing and unsettled. For now.

    Posted by: matt | Feb 12, 2013 4:54:38 PM

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