AP Pronouncement on ‘Husband’ and ‘Wife’

The Associated Press (AP) style is still what many of us media types use as a benchmark for standards. More importantly to me, however, is what I believe is the high regard the public has for AP style (at least among those who are aware of such a thing as “AP style”).

So it’s no small thing when AP makes a change (such as it’s recent “homophobia” decision) or weighs in on a new situation that needs weighing in on.

Which leads me to this brief but consequential recent memo from AP standards that Jim Romenesko posted:

APLogoFrom: AP Standards
Sent: Mon 2/11/2013 2:45 PM

STYLE WATCH

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 stories with attribution. Generally AP uses couples or partners to describe people in civil unions or same-sex marriages.

Tom Kent
Dave Minthorn

What’s with the “scare quotes”? I can see the distinction from an AP viewpoint when, for example, a man in a domestic partnership or civil union calls the other man in that legally recognized relationship “husband” that technically that person is not his husband, because “husband” is reserved for marriage.

But when two men in a legally recognized marriage call themselves husbands, it makes no sense to me that AP should make a distinction because that marriage is not yet federally recognized.

I don’t know for sure, but I would be surprised if AP made such a distinction back in the days before Loving v. Virginia made interracial marriages legal nationwide.

UPDATE 1: AP sent Romenesko the following updated version of the memo above:

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.

UPDATE 2: AP has changed its stylebook:

The following entry was added today to the AP Stylebook Online and also will appear in the new print edition and Stylebook Mobile, published in the spring:

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.

“The AP has never had a Stylebook entry on the question of the usage of husband and wife,” said AP Senior Managing Editor for U.S. News Mike Oreskes. “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.”