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.
I’ve been reporting all week on the growing brouhaha enveloping the Associated Press (AP) over its bizarre insistence that the legally-conducted marriages of gay couples, in the nine states (and DC) that permit gay people to marry, are not real marriages.
Rather, says AP, these legal marriages of gay couples are akin to “civil unions,” and thus AP “generally uses” the terms “couples” or “partners” to refer to legally-wed gay spouses.
When was the last time you heard anyone, let alone AP, refer to a married heterosexual couple as “partners”?
Adding fuel to the flame is a new statement released by AP to Chris Geidner of Buzzfeed. In its statement, the AP spokesman lied about the company’s policy on this matter.
The Associated Press is holding firm against criticism — some of it internal — of a Feb. 11 guidance issued to its reporters and editors that they were to “[g]enerally … [use] couples or partners to describe people in civil unions or same-sex marriages.”
AP spokesman Paul Colford told BuzzFeed Thursday evening, “This week’s style guidance reaffirmed AP’s existing practice. We’ve used husband and wife in the past for same-sex married couples and have made clear that reporters can continue to do so going forward.” [emphasis added]
Let me repeat that last part: “ We’ve used husband and wife in the past for same-sex married couples and have made clear that reporters can continue to do so going forward.”
That first part about using husband and wife in the past may or may not be true, but the second part, suggesting that AP reporters can use, at will, the terms husband or wife for married gay people, is flat-out untrue, unless AP is now suggesting that its revered “style guidance” department is irrelevant, routinely ignored, and should be routinely ignored, by its own reporters.
In fact, AP’s style guidance (quoted in full at the end of this article) explicitly gives two scenarios – two and only two – in which AP reporters may (or should) use “husband” or “wife” to describe the participants in a legal marriage of two gay people:
1. When one of the gay spouses being written about mentions the term husband or wife in a quote, and AP uses the quote. (I.e., The couple could call themselves “blueberries,” and AP would quote it, since publishing a quote doesn’t necessarily mean that AP agrees with, or endorses, the substance of that quote. This is a modified version of the scare-quote defense: “If it’s in quotes, we don’t really mean it.”)
2. AP reporters may use the terms husband and wife if the gay couple “regularly uses” the terms husband or wife about themselves. (And no one has any idea what “regularly uses” means.)
That’s it. In all other cases, AP reporters were told this week – pardon me, we’re reaffirmed this week – that they are not to, or at the very least should not, use the terms husband and wife about legally-married gay couples. And AP, in its leaked style guidance, went so far as to suggest alternatives that AP prefers their reporters use when describing legally-wed gay couples:
“Generally AP uses couples or partners to describe people in civil unions or same-sex marriages.”
Color me confused. One one hand, the spokesman says AP uses husband and wife all the time about gay spouses. Yet the style guidance says no, AP generally use couples or partners. So which one is it, do they generally use husband and wife, or couples and partners?
Not to mention, in its style guidance AP has delineated only two limited scenarios in which it wishes its reporters to use the terms husband and wife for gay spouses, instead of couples and partners. So how, where, and when did AP make clear that reporters can continue using the terms husband and wife going forward since the style guidance, which is where AP generally makes such things clear, says not to use husband and wife unless one of two limited scenarios is met.
AP’s spokesman’s statement is simply untrue. His statement would have been correct had he said:
“We’ve used husband and wife in the past for same-sex married couples and have made clear that reporters can continue to do so going forward if one of two circumstances are met.”
But that’s not what he said. He tried to make it look like AP reporters are free to use husband and wife to describe gay couples whenever they want. And if that were the case, then why does AP have a style guideline that completely contradicts that assertion? And if reporters are fine using husband and wife whenever they wish, then why is AP refusing to get rid of the contradictory style guideline? Not to mention, why have the style guideline at all if AP is now suggesting that its reporters never obey the style guideline anyway?
As for AP’s claim that this week’s leaked style guidance simply reaffirms existing practice, how is that a defense of a bigoted, outdated, and factually incorrect style guidance? ”That’s the way we’ve always done it,” AP is now claiming. Maybe, but it’s wrong.
But of course. even that argument is flawed. Is AP actually suggesting that it’s using old style guidance written for civil unions to describe marriages of gay people, which are a relatively new phenomenon? AP didn’t, and won’t, update its style guidance to reflect that we now have a new legal structure for gay people – or in fact, we have always had a very old structure to which gay people have only now been permitted access. Why not?
This, by the way, is AP’s style guidance on how to handle the marriages of gay people, that was leaked 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.
And, “generally,” AP would never default to the term “partner” to describe spouses in a heterosexual marriage, so why does it generally use that term for gay people who are married?
Until the Associated Press can provide a convincing argument for why it has set up a separate-but-equal style guideline to describe the “difference” between one person’s legal marriage and another person’s legal marriage, simply because one spouse is gay and the other straight, this problem will not go away, and in fact, it’s going to get a lot worse.
We are never going to agree to disagree about whether the Associated Press has the right to vitiate our legal marriages simply because the people who write AP’s style guidance either find gay people icky; or are incapable of admitting they made a mistake, and then correcting it.