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.”

4 Responses

  1. Maybe AP should revise their rules on using homophobia as their homophobic decision to separate but unequal language is well really homophobic – meaning that the self-loathers who decided this must be afraid that AP will find out they are married to someone of the same sex

  2. […] correct the problem with this style rule. The National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association condemned the arbitrary decision to give same-sex marriages less recognition than other […]

  3. The updated language is basically still the same thing. If two men marry in New York, they are legally husbands. According to the AP, they will be indentified as a couple or partners if they are unsure if the two men have ever publically said they were husbands. So in a story about a married gay couple winning the lottery in New York, if the two men didn’t specially refer to themselves as husbands in their interview, the AP’s current guidelines require the article to mention them as partners, not husbands. Substitute in a straight married couple, who would never ever be refered to as partners, but husband and wife.

  4. […] writes that “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 […]

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