AP Revises “Husband,” “Wife” Terminology For Same-Sex Couples (Again) After Outcry

ap-stylebookYou don’t generally hear a lot of controversy coming out of the copy-editing world (discounting the Oxford comma debacle of 1978, of course).

But a war of words broke out when the Associated Press released an internal memo recently, announcing it would only refer to married gay individuals as “husband” or “wife” if the couple made it clear they used those terms themselves and, even then, in quotations.

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.

We can just see it: A lesbian couple narrowly escapes a fire that destroyed their home, and the first question the reporter asks is, “How do you refer to each other?” Get real.

The memo was allegedly a revision of an earlier decision to not to use “husband” or “wife” in reference to same-sex partners at all—even when they’ve had legal ceremonies in states that respect marriage equality. (In November, the AP also dropped the term “homophobia” because it claimed it was innaccurate.

Now the esteemed news service—whose style bible is used by newspapers, writers and classrooms nationwide—has revised its decision again, after Jen Christensen, president of the National Lesbian and Gay Journalism Association, reached out.

The new new entry, added to the online version of the AP Stylebook yesterday, reads:

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.

In a statement, the NLGJA said it “applauds” The Associated Press for setting things right: “Language choices like these have an impact.”

We have some choice language we’d like use in regards to the AP, but we’ll keep quiet.