The Associated Press stylebook guides most mainstream journalists’ practices, so the announcement of a new, changed, or even clarified rule has significant consequences. On Monday, an AP “memo for internal guidance” provided the following problematic suggestion for how to refer to married same-sex couples:
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.
Shortly thereafter, the guidance was subtly revised:
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 revision did not 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 marriages:
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.
Marriages are marriages, so husbands should be husbands and wives should be wives. Arguably, “husband” and “wife” should even be used in civil unions and in states where same-sex marriage is not recognized, because many couples have nevertheless married in their faith tradition or otherwise held a commitment ceremony. Obviously, applying some context is important, but if a couple is married, there is no legitimate reason to discount that label except to placate those in society who refuse to recognize those unions.
Last November, AP issued a similarly controversial rule eliminating the use of the word “homophobia” along with other social “-phobia” words.