UPDATE: VICTORY! AP has corrected its error, and created a new styleguide entry recognizing that the legal marriages of gay couples are just as much “marriages” as legal marriages of straight couples.
UPDATE: AP, in a statement last night, is now outright lying about its separate-but-equal policy towards the marriages of gay couples.
The Associated Press insists that, in spite of courts, legislatures, and even voters (in some cases) legalizing same-sex unions in nine US states and the District of Columbia, the media organization still does not consider such marriages to be equal to heterosexual marriages.
In fact, the marriages of gay couples are not only equal to the marriages of straight couples in those states – they are in fact the exact same thing. They are “marriages.” Period.
Too bad, says AP, in a style guidance leaked earlier this week:
“Generally AP uses couples or partners to describe people in civil unions or same-sex marriages.”
Why would AP use the same term for gay couples in a civil union as they do for gay couples in a legal marriage? That’s simply bizarre. Does AP use the same term for straight couples in a civil union as it does for straight couples in a marriage?
It’s only for gays that the AP has decided to use different terminology for defining the people in that marriage. And the only reason, the obvious reason, is that the AP doesn’t think gay marriages are “real” marriages. What other reason can their be for refusing to have the same policy the marriages of gay couples as it has for the marriages of straight couples?
Of course, it’s completely irrelevant if the AP doesn’t like or respect the legal marriages of gay people. That fact does not change the validity of said marriages. You are either married or you are not. And never in history has the validity of one’s marriage depended on the comfort level of a journalist. At least not in a free country. So why has the Associated Press decided to overturn the courts, legislatures, and/or voters in nine states and DC and wipe out the marriages of gay couples across the country?
Now, AP will argue that they’re doing no such thing. But the fact remains that the AP has a policy in place that calls for using different terminology, and different standards, when dealing with the legal marriages of gay couples as it does when dealing with the legal marriages of straight couples. And they simply cannot explain why.
Here is AP’s complete, recently-leaked, style guideline on how to refer to the marriage of gay people – note that this guideline specifically targets legal weddings of gay people. It does not apply to legal weddings of straight people – only gay people. This was leaked earlier this week:
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.
AP should have one policy: Married people are married, unmarried people are not. And if you’re married and a guy, you’re a husband. And if you’re a woman, you’re a wife. Period.
But to suggest, as AP has, that they will only use “husband” or “wife” to describe a gay person in a marriage if it’s in quotes, or if, and only if, the couple has “regularly used” those terms, is again, bizarre. No such rule exists for straight married couples. The AP doesn’t refuse to call heterosexuals “husband” or “wife” unless and until they can prove that they’ve “regularly used” the terms themselves. So why is there a different standard at AP for legal marriages of gay people?
Yesterday the National Lesbian and Gay Journalist Association, made up of many of the top journalists in the country, sent a letter to AP admonishing them over this.
NLGJA did make one mistake in their letter, and it’s a mistake a few other observers have made (the problem with being a journalist and not a lawyer). It was suggesting that the problem with AP’s “gay marriage” guideline is the last sentence of the guideline (“Generally AP uses couples or partners to describe people in civil unions or same-sex marriages.”). It is not enough for AP to delete the last sentence. The guideline, overall, establishes a threshold for when AP will use the terms “husband” or “wife” for legally-wed gay couples, but does not apply the same standard, the same threshold, the same policy to legally-wed heterosexual couples. Having two different policies for the same thing is, on its face, discriminatory, not to mention factually incorrect.
It is one thing for the Associated Press, or anyone else, to say that they won’t treat civil unions the same as marriage. I can respect that as civil unions aren’t marriages. But when the AP tries to argue that marriages aren’t marriages, those are fighting words.