The Associated Press announced today a reversal of guidance that was issued last week suggesting the words “husband” and “wife” only be used for people in opposite-sex marriages. According to the new entry that will be printed in the journalism stylebook, “husband” and “wife” will apply to any legally recognized marriage, “regardless of sexual orientation:
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.”
Just last week, AP was defending its stance, arguing that it was good enough that “husband” and “wife” were optional choices for reporters to use for same-sex couples, even if they weren’t “generally” recommended. Of course, such options violate the very purpose of standards the stylebook is meant to maintain.
There could remain an inherent conflict in this new standard. Many same-sex couples have gotten married through their religion or through a nondenominational celebration and identify each other as spouses, but they live in a state that does not recognize their marriage. Given the entry’s caveat that the language applies to “legally recognized marriage,” there is still a potential that this language could disrespect gays and lesbians. Still, it is a vast improvement over the previous guidance that relegated same-sex couples to second-class rhetoric.