Associated Press Tells Writers Not To Use “Husband,” “Wife” For Same-Sex Couples

ap-stylebook-websiteEven if your state considers married same-sex partners equal to their heterosexual counterparts, the Associated Press doesn’t want its writers using the words “husband” and “wife” when referring to them

An internal memo attributed to the venerable wire service initially banned the use of the words for legally-wed gay couples. After allies and advocate cried foul, the AP quickly updated its style guide, considered the grammar Bible by many media outlets and universities, and said the error had been fixed.

But as AmericaBlog points out, the AP now says “husband” and “wife” are still verboten, unless the couple is known to use that term themselves. We can’t remember the last time a straight married couple was asked how they refer to themselves, can you?

From AP’s memo:

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 AP recently wrinkled some noses when it banned the use of the word “homophobia,” purportedly because it was inaccurate and made anti-gay animus sound like a mental illness. But coupled with this latest edict, it smells rather shady.

What the AP is doing, in essence, is redefining marriage. (Someone call Maggie Gallagher!) If a couple with no legal bond calls themselves “husbands,” they’ll be referred to that way. But a married same-sex couple that didn’t send out a press release on what they want to be referred to as gets called “partners.”

Why not just go with “butt buddies”?

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  • viveutvivas

    Well, a lot of gay married people don’t like the terms “husbands” or “wives”.

  • Thom in MD

    My partner and I do not use the term “Husband”. We usually refer to each other as “Partner” or “Spouse”.

  • petensfo

    I use husband & wife for everyone in a long-term relationship. When I’m speaking, it’s the concept that I want understood & nothing says it better. But I gotta say, I find this kind of interesting. I’m sure AP is no ally, but they are kind of forcing the issue.

    ‘Homophobia’ often gets highlighted as a misspelling, even on gay sites, so they are hardly alone.

  • samwise343

    @viveutvivas: So if they majority of married, gay couples don’t use the terms husbands or wives, then no one should use those terms?

  • samwise343

    @Thom in MD: Thank God we all have the freedom like you do to call our significant other something like partner, spouse, husband, wife, etc.

  • viveutvivas

    @samwise, no, that is not what I said. They should only use the terms “husband” or “wife” for those couples who prefer those terms, as in the AP policy, which I think is correct. They should not force the terminology “husband” or “wife” on the many couples who don’t like it.

  • hyhybt

    There doesn’t seem to be anything restricting this “use husband or wife if the couple does” to couples who are legally married. They surely take the word of straight couples on their relationship status, rather than rushing off to the courthouse to verify the existence or nonexistence of a marriage license; why not for gay couples as well?

  • Tommy25

    To me, anyone who is legally married in a same sex or opposite sex relationship should be referred to as husband or wife. They don’t ask straight people if they like the term husband or wife. I do not like the term partner to refer to people in a romantic relationship because it confuses people because a lot of people think you are talking about a business partnership, Partner can have different meanings. Husband and wife is more clear, with only one meaning.

  • Daniel-Reader

    Sounds fishy. If you are married you are a husband or you are a wife – gay, bi, or straight. Also it’d be more impressive if AP stories were more accurate – they say only six states allow marriage equality in the USA when it is nine (just saw an AP story in USA Today that had this factual error). So who owns the Associated Press and why don’t they fact check?

  • Whup-Ass Master

    This is actually proper. I work in the news business and the A/P Style Book (and the Chicago Manual of Style) make their decisions based primarily on proper grammar, usage and clarity. The words “husband” and “wife” could conceivably confuse the reader when referring to a same-sex couple. “Spouse” and “partner” are proper and in no way demeaning. There are lots of things in this world worthy of our outrage. This ain’t one of them, folks.

  • 1EqualityUSA

    Before our first marriage was stripped from us in 2008, after Gavin Newsom said, “Come on down!” the person who officiated said, “I now pronounce you spouses for life.” I’ve been using, “spouse” ever since, or sometimes “life partner” interchangeably. Spouse is my favorite term. “Wife” just feels so odd and it carries with it meaning that doesn’t encompass what we are. Gender is not relevant. We are spouses. We are spiritually connected. Flesh is the least of what we are to each other.

  • jwrappaport

    @Whup-Ass Master: I did manuscript editing for some time and feel justified in declaring shenanigans – just like I did in the AP homophobia blunder, but that’s a different argument. I would love for someone to explain how using “partner” would avoid any serious confusion. “Husband” and “wife” are almost always used in relation to the named spouse or their pronoun. In the case of a pronoun, there is no confusion, e.g., “His husband was a lawyer.”

    In the case of the named spouse, the name will likely be gender-indicative. In the case of androgynous names, there is arguable ambiguity, but a single reference to it by pronoun, which is essentially certain, would resolve it. In the rare case that we’re talking about an exceedingly short piece with an androgynous name absent a pronoun to identify its sex, “partner” may sometimes resolve the confusion, but at an unacceptable price, I think: Reminding us all that our marriages our unions and our husbands are partners. I didn’t ask for these euphemisms, and to be told to use them is insulting (even if not outrageous). I won’t use them if I get married or, erm, civilly unioned.

  • jwrappaport

    I should add: Use whatever term you want, but don’t make the AP default different for gays and straights. That don’t sit well with me. I’m moving to Chicago Manual. I always liked it better anyway.

  • viveutvivas

    @jwrappaport, I don’t agree. When there is an argument between giving people a choice and not giving them a choice, giving them a choice should always win. I find the patriarchal terms “husband” and “wife” demeaning, and would certainly not want to be referred to as the “husband” (gag) of someone. I know even some straight married people who prefer referring to their spouse with the more egalitarian “partner” rather than “husband” or “wife”, avoiding all the historical baggage the latter implies. Sure, call people that who want to be called that, but people should be given the choice.

  • jwrappaport

    @viveutvivas: I’m confused. What don’t you agree with, other than that I prefer husband to partner? Who said we shouldn’t have the choice? I never advocated otherwise. I can find nothing in your response inconsistent with my position, i.e., that there is no legitimate reason to shift the default for gays and lesbians when it remains in place for heterosexuals. People should be free to use any term they prefer, but keep the journalistic default equal for straights and gays alike.

    I’ll admit, if Mike from Homeland (or Channing Tatum) said I had to be his partner and not his husband, I think I could come to terms with that.

  • D9W

    “The AP recently wrinkled some noses when it banned the use of the word “homophobia,” purportedly because it was inaccurate and made anti-gay animus sound like a mental illness. But coupled with this latest edict,”

    “it smells rather shady”

    Well- Yeah it smells! Something along the lines of yesterday’s diapers. AP can print that right?

  • esslar

    The AP is right on with this. We were together twenty-nine years and married for two (in DC when it became legal there) and we used “spouse” when we got married because we didn’t want to ape the hets. We liked “spouse” because it is neutral yet still is only used for people who are legally married. If other same-gender couples wish to use “husband” or “wife” that’s up to them but we hated those terms. Use “spouse” unless the couple wishes to be addressed otherwise.

  • Hermes

    Actually, I agree with AP in this case, and possibly in the other.

    In this case, we, after 20 years do not choose to use the title husband. Partner is quite adequate for us. Further, I’m a professional in the sciences with a terminal degree – and I have a significant number of heterosexual colleagues in the institution where I work that choose to use the title partner, as in “my partner said,” and almost everyone my age or younger with a terminal either hyphenates or keeps their own last name — even though they are legally married. They not only do both with me, where they might think it polite, but they use it with everyone.

    I simply do not see a big deal here.

    As for homophobia. I have had to engage in significant battles over the years with those who claim they aren’t AFRAID of homosexuals. Yes, I understand that while literally the word should mean fear of homosexuals (or of men in other possible permutations) we need to understand it in the context of our living and evolving language. That’s what I tell people, and believe me, I’m well able to parse the argument. That’s one person at a time however. If there is a better or as good word, then I’m all for it.



  • USC Trojans Fan

    Same sex couples who say the word “partner” do so because it’s less offensive and more neutral to heterosexuals. Partner enables homophobes to view us as a couple. When their children hear us say “he’s my partner” it enables them to shield their young, and not make the kid know he’s our life partner..whereas “he’s my husband” would really drive that point home. The upper hand is given to the heterosexual. The word partner was derived 30 or so years ago to make people not think gay couples are actually…couples. They don’t have to confront the fact that we kiss, hug, snuggle, make love, and are companions just as a heterosexual couple is. In short, ‘partners’ is a straight approved, watered down, inferior term coined for gay couples by privileged straight society.

    My husband is my husband. We married to, and went through great adversity to do so, just so he could be my husband.

    He’s not a partner, business partner, nor will he be referred as such to appease heterosexuals uncomfortable with the notion that gay couples are a couple.

  • USC Trojans Fan

    @esslar: why do you wish to be neutral with your relationship? for heterosexuals and making them comfortable? because you feel husband and wife should be reserved for marrifed heterosexual couples? aren’t those the same exact arguments made against marriage as a title for gay couples. I mean , you’re essentially arguing gay couples are different than hetero couples so should have different titles. That’s exactly what those in favor of civil unions (with all the same rights) as opposed to gay marriage advocate. You’re making their arguments for them.

  • DarkZephyr

    When I get married, I am definitely using the term “husband” for my spouse. “Partner” sounds like a business relationship. I intend to create a family, not a new convenience store chain.

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