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NLGJA Pens Open Letter to AP, Finds Guidance on 'Husband' and 'Wife' Usage 'Troubling'

On 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.

ApThey 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.

The National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association published an open letter to the AP today, saying it finds the directive "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.

Read the full letter HERE.

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  1. Why do gay people even create a silly psuedo name like "partners" anyway?
    It seems kind of counter productive to make your commitments have a different title when you're also fighting for the word marriage instead of civil unions.

    The word husband and wife packs a punch and the listener knows exactly what you mean when you refer to the love of your life as such.

    The word partner is ambigious and vague. Is that supposed to be the point?

    Posted by: Greg Cali | Feb 14, 2013 7:11:49 PM

  2. I remember being back home in Alabama and my very conservative family referring to my uncles legally married husband as his partner. When I told them Uncle Joseph refers to Uncle Louis as his husband, they all laughed and said "well, no man has a husband. we like to call them partners in these parts of town"

    To me, the word partner has a subtext to it that I personally feel is laced in a bit of hetero privilige, that some gay people can't see. But my Uncle does and really resents it.

    Posted by: kyle | Feb 14, 2013 7:15:03 PM

  3. Thank you National Gay & Lesbian Journalists Association for taking a stand here and making such an articulate response to the AP.

    The small things do count, and if we don't make our presence known and have a dignified response to the small 'incidents' then they'll add up and there will be a blurred line toward acceptable societal bias against gay committed couples.

    Posted by: Art Smith | Feb 14, 2013 7:18:04 PM

  4. I will always correct people when they call my husband my partner. Which gay organization designated that word for us all? My husband and I sure as heck never approved it. We really resent that label. We're not partners. We're lovers, companions, and husbands.
    I'm tired of all gay married couples still be deemed partners, because some choose to adopt that word. Not all of us do!

    Posted by: 2 Dads | Feb 14, 2013 7:20:28 PM

  5. the word partners just seems so emotionally detached, and formal, and just kinda creeps me out. honestly.

    if I'm dating a man, he's my boyfriend. if I'm engaged to him. he's my fiance. If I married him, he's my husband. it's not that hard for me, and just because I happen to be in love with a man doesn't mean I need to create all sorts of crafty cute labels to call our relationship.

    Posted by: LazerLight | Feb 14, 2013 7:22:43 PM

  6. I'd agree that the AP terminology is not optimal, but it is also worth keeping in mind that there valid stylistic issues that may occasionally come up. For example, consider the sentence, "Smith's wife said he joined the 49ers as a defensive player." It is pretty clear that "he" refers to Mr. Smith, or at least not to Mr. Smith's wife. Now consider the sentence, "Smith's husband said he joined the 49ers as a defensive player." In this case, "he" could be interpreted as referring to the husband making the statement, not Smith, particularly if that part of an article is quoted so that an indication of a same-sex marriage could be missing. On the other hand, "John Smith's husband said that John joined the 49ers as a defensive player" is an unambiguous statement.

    So, there is an issue that deserves some consideration in a style manual, if only a warning about ambiguities that could arise when pronouns or possessive adjectives are used with respect to same-sex couples that would not arise with opposite-sex couples.

    Another thing to keep in mind is how newspaper articles are written. They tend to start with a short description of the story, and then elaborate with additional details further down in the article. There's a natural breaking point, so that the short version can appear on the front page with the rest of the article continued on a later page. Then when people read the paper, they have an easier time finding the articles that interest them. The AP has an additional issue - a paper may cut an article it gets from the AP because of space limitations - additional pages add to the cost of production. You want the article written so that it is easy for editors to make such cuts. If an article gives the wrong impression if the last sentence in it is lost, there's a problem.

    Posted by: Bill | Feb 14, 2013 7:28:24 PM

  7. I think AP has it mixed up. I think it should be the other way around too.

    Those who wish to refer to their spouse as partner should be given that option to do so, but those in legal sanctioned marriages shouldn't have to be investigated as to what they call their married partner; it should be the universal term noted for heterosexuals : wife and husband. That to me would be far more fair and fitting than automatically assuming a same sex married couple prefers partner as the go-to title, when many don't. It's more reasonable to reserve partner for those same sex couples who refer to each other as that. Not a blanket statement for all same sex couples (unless told otherwise).

    Posted by: Michelle | Feb 14, 2013 7:32:46 PM

  8. Me: "My partner and I are going out of town"

    Friend: "Oh, cool. A business trip? Where to?"

    Me: "No. No, not a business trip, just a trip."

    Friend: "Huh. Okay. Well, meeting up with any clients?"

    Me: "No, now why the heck would we meet..."

    Friend: "Well, why are you and your partner from the firm..."

    Me: "Oh forget it. My husband! He and I are going to Miami"

    Friend: "Oh! well why didn't you say so to begin with."

    Me: "Trying to be hipster cute. Yeah, he's my husband. And it really isn't a big deal just calling him that after all"

    Posted by: Boston Dude | Feb 14, 2013 7:41:46 PM

  9. How is homosexual marriage the same as heterosexual marriage? They are two different things.

    Posted by: bruce | Feb 14, 2013 7:47:55 PM

  10. Why are we trying to equate homosexual marriage with heterosexual marriage? We should not be fraid of calling them different? Of course they are different. We need to stop with this knee-jerk activism that seeks to equate everything.

    Re-defining words - as NLGJA seems to want AP to do - is completely the wrong way of going about things. Husband means man, wife means woman. Stop pretending that they can be applied to two men or two women.

    Posted by: bruce | Feb 14, 2013 7:51:11 PM

  11. Nope, Bruce. Logic fail. Try again though.

    Posted by: J | Feb 14, 2013 7:51:38 PM

  12. Towleroad appears to be censoring commentary that is neither obscene nor defamatory. A comment posted by an acquaintance of mine appears to have been blocked. Is Towleroad afraid of free and open discussion?

    If Andy Towle is censoring non-obscene and non-defamatory comments, it reflects poorly on the integrity of his site.

    Posted by: alex | Feb 14, 2013 7:53:52 PM

  13. Bruce-
    All marriages differ from each other. Some based on ethnicity, cultures, religion, race; yet notice all those marriages are still referred to as husbands and wives, and marriages. Your ilk only seems to take exception with the normalcy and mainstream effects of same sex marriages being treated as one, and not a one off. That's your own issues you need to iron out. We can't help you with that.

    Posted by: Steve-ATL | Feb 14, 2013 7:56:06 PM

  14. Bruce the bigot illustrates exactly why it's important to refer to my spouse as my husband. Vocally and with pride. The moment I do as his breed wants is the moment I've raped my soul.

    My husband. Husband. Husband. Husband. Husband!

    Posted by: Married man with a husband | Feb 14, 2013 7:58:10 PM

  15. Bruce, now now, wipe those tears. Gay marriage is happening, will happen, will continue to pass in every state, gay couples will couple up, will fall in love, will hold hands, will hold hands IN PUBLIC, and will very happily and unapologetically refer to the person they married as their wife and husband. I know my gay friends do, and I most definitely plan to as well. If for nothing else, just to make your kind squirm a little more knowing the gay presence is in town, and we're here to stay.

    Posted by: Duration & Convexity | Feb 14, 2013 7:59:56 PM

  16. J,

    I think you failed the logic test. You failed to refute any of Bruce's comments. All you did was post 7 words that mean nothing. Try again.

    My point is that we as a community should not be attempting to re-define words. It's dangerous.

    If we re-define, others will seek to re-define too. How do you think the word "gay" became a term of derision amongst America's youth? It's because we gave permission to the re-definition of words. We took the "gay" word and changed its meaning from happy to homosexual.

    We should be PROUD of the fact that we are different. It doesn't mean we don't have equal rights at the legal level, it simply means that we recognize that words have definitions that should not change just because the gay community needs it collective ego validated.

    Posted by: alex | Feb 14, 2013 8:00:06 PM

  17. Bruce
    You've gotta do a better job of trolling. Homosexual is a term we reserve for the trolls who come on here and tell us how 'homosexual' they are, while we both know your little tactic. C'mon now. Y'all gotta up your game! You're not even good at what you do.

    Posted by: J.J | Feb 14, 2013 8:01:05 PM

  18. Married Man with a "Husband",

    Nonsense, nonsense, nonsense. Just because it exists in your head, it doesn't mean the definition should change. Your ego should know its limits.

    Just because YOU call him your husband, it doesn't validate a need for a change of definition. Learn to keep your personal preferences separate from the definition.

    Posted by: alex | Feb 14, 2013 8:03:07 PM

  19. Seeing how the word partner was designated to us by folks like Bruce, and there was no official memo, or LGBT roster to adopt that word for us as our own, and it was essentially handed to us by heterosexuals, I believe gay people who are legally married shouldn't have that word automatically pinned on them. Especially considering they never got a vote on the matter, and many of them whom I know don't take kindly to having their husband and wife called their partner.

    Posted by: Hoosier Bud | Feb 14, 2013 8:03:41 PM

  20. @Bruce

    Now we get to the real crux of the entire issue. Is gender the concept with which you hinge changing the terminology.

    "Self-loathing" and "Using the same argument our enemies have been using" have already been mentioned on here the past few days so I won't be the broken record on that, but...

    I have heard some that I've met use "partners", not "boyfriends" to describe themselves pre-engagement and/or marriage (or for good with lack of being able to marry in their state) and didn't think anything of it. If two married gays or lesbians identified themselves as "partners", I wouldn't immediately holler "you're settling for a societal inferiority complex" in their face because it's their decision and I consider that rude. I personally wouldn't identify that way but it's their decision.

    Are those that identify that way obligated to tow the mantle of the community in the terminology department? Is it "offensive" if they don't? If it is, according to whom? Did the community reach a "consensus" on this? If not, when do we? Who even STARTED the freakin' term "partner" anyways? Gays or straights? Why?

    Of course this entire time I'm thinking I've always wished we could've just gotten all the rights federally without having to deal with the bible-thumpers but that's impossible...sigh.

    Posted by: Leo | Feb 14, 2013 8:05:13 PM

  21. Alex/David Hearne/Bruce/Rick

    You make the same points in past threads under different handles, down to the wording. And all your points reek of homophobia. That you have to nerve to think we're so stupid to not smell your stink and buy what you're selling is whats most amusing here.

    Posted by: Kevin | Feb 14, 2013 8:05:55 PM

  22. Bruce is confused. Bruce thinks that a married same-sex male couple wants to be called a husband & wife. When, in fact, they want to be called husband & husband. This confusion has been noted in the comments of every site I have seen this discussed. It's because of the way the AP statement is made.

    Where the AP wrote

    "We were asked how to report about same-sex couples who call themselves “husband” and “wife.”

    They should have written

    We were asked how to report about same-sex couples who call themselves “husband and husband” or “wife and wife.”

    Posted by: anonymous | Feb 14, 2013 8:08:31 PM

  23. Leo,

    Why is "partner" inferior? I don't consider it inferior at all.

    We should maintain our rage for equal rights but I draw the line at re-defining words. The re-definition revolution needs to stop.

    As I said earlier, if you start re-defining words, it gives permission to others to do the same. It's dangerous.

    Posted by: alex | Feb 14, 2013 8:08:34 PM

  24. See, I actually originally came on here giving the benefit of the doubt to the term partners, but seeing the ignorance displayed by the likes of Bruce and Alex, in their quest to marginalize gay MARRIED couples, I now realize exactly what those who don't like the phrase -partners- mean. It really IS an inferior way of being, imposed to us by heterosexuals and the conservative bandwagon, in their quest to make us know and feel how different our relationships are. When they are really not, nor do the differences need to be highlighted, as love is love. Marriage is marriage, and a husband is a husband regardless of your gender.

    Posted by: jordan | Feb 14, 2013 8:09:29 PM

  25. Kevin/Anonymous/Married Man With A Husband,

    Two can play that game. You failed to answer my points because your arguments are lame. You lost, I won.

    Posted by: alex | Feb 14, 2013 8:11:16 PM

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