AP reporter: I won’t follow new anti-gay rule banning terms “husband” “wife”

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.

There appears to be open dissension at the Associated Press (AP) over the media entity’s new policy, announced yesterday, not to necessarily refer to legally-wed gay couples in the same way they refer to legally-wed straight ones.

AP said they would only use “husband” and “wife” to describe gay marriages in which the couples “regularly used” the terms themselves, whatever that means. AP does not have the same policy for straight marriages. And AP indicated that it preferred to treat gay marriages as civil unions, not as real straight marriages, even though they’re legally the same thing. Here is AP’s new policy:

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.

In response, New York-based AP reporter David Crary, who writes about gay and trans issues for the media company, just told journalist Rex Wockner by email, on the record:

The AP style guidance will have no effect on how I write about legally married same-sex couples. I will continue to depict them on equal terms, linguistically and otherwise, with heterosexual married couples, with no hesitation about using husband and wife in the cases where that’s the appropriate term.

Crary’s response means one of two things.  Either there is open revolt at the AP over the new policy, or AP management decided to throw irate civil rights advocates a bone by claiming that while the policy will remain, it won’t really be implemented (which is bs).  Either way, the policy is still on the books, and this controversy will continue to grow. But if this is truly sign of dissension in the ranks at AP, that’s good news, not just for gay people, but for journalism overall.

Follow me on Twitter: @aravosis | @americablog | @americabloggay | Facebook | Instagram | Google+ | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the Executive Editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown; and has worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, the United Nations Development Programme, and as a stringer for the Economist. He is a frequent TV pundit, having appeared on the O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline, AM Joy & Reliable Sources, among others. John lives in Washington, DC. .

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  • I’m glad he’s taking a stand, but he doesn’t have editorial control.

  • Stev84

    In old germanic languages wife was “wif” and woman was “wifman” or similar. Back then there wasn’t necessarily a distinction between “wife” meaning a married woman and “woman” as a female a human.

  • payingattention

    Thanks for clarifying. In fact, I am not advocating for gender elimination, just neutrality. Humanism, if you will. Gender informs our behavior to some extent whether we like it or not, but we can attempt to make it less of an influence in the things that it doesn’t truly pertain to.

  • payingattention

    Please see above.

  • payingattention

    I guess I was thinking of wmforr’s point when I suggested that gender-neutral was the way to go. And yes, Stev84, I’d probably just rather be called a human.

  • slavdude

    Actually, IFIRC, “woman” in Old Saxon meant “female human being”, where man meant “male human being” or just “human being”. This latter definition of “man” seems to have held at least through the eighteenth century, where David Hume is on record as talking about “all men, male and female”.

  • wmforr

    I do recall many years ago being asked by the really ignorant, “Which one of you is the husband and which is the wife?” Certainly such ignorance must still exist, but where I’m directly exposed to it.

    My hubby was asked by his sister’s then-boyfriend, “Which one of you plays the male rôle?” to which he replied, “Which of you does?”

  • wmforr

    “The Senator and his Mama-poopsy-kins arrive in Washington.”

  • wmforr

    I would accept their ban on “husband” and “wife” if they will apply it universally and speak, for example, of “Newt Gingrich and his current fuck-buddy Callista.”

  • Stev84

    There are lots of words that have similar origins, but are used in a very different context today. Words change and evolve. I get where you’re coming from, but I don’t see the need to get hung up on the past.

    By the same logic, you shouldn’t call your self woman, which has the exact same linguistic origins as the word “wife”

  • The best way to undermine the baggage of these terms is to allow gay people to embrace them fully. When both spouses are of the same sex, there is no room for gendered inequality in the relationship.

  • Good question! If they did, there would be no controversy.

  • payingattention

    So, I am a heterosexual married woman, and I support the significance of the ability of same sex couples to marry and to be able to refer to one another in traditional terms. I would add, though, that the terms husband and wife are really antiquated, having to do with reproduction and property. “Man and wife” in the typical wedding ceremony meaning that the female had beome the property of the dominant male, who was the full [hu]man. It would be even better if we could all adopt gender-neutral use of the word “spouse”, so I wouldn’t also feel like a breeding machine when I refer to my “husband”.

  • Stephen Clark

    Thanks for stating on top of this important issue, Jyohn.

  • Skeptical Cicada

    Except for the little detail that when the reporter doesn’t know what the couple wants, the reporter is to refer to the straight spouses using a marriage word and the gay spouses using a non-marriage word. Unclear why your mind is having such a hard time processing that bigotry.

  • banat masr

    the DNC or Obama. We seek to have our party and its leaders uphold the promises they have made. I am a lifelong Democrat, always will be, but until the Democratic party “gets around to” serious LGBT issues, I’ll be fine just sitting it out and not getting all wrapped up in the rhetoric: give us money, give us money, give us money, and on and on and on.


  • Steve_in_CNJ

    and naturally I misspelled it — symbiont lol

  • Ruh roh…. you just invoked Godwin’s law, and I don’t think I’ve finished reading half the comments!

  • A pity, as they’re about to find out… we are starting to become more powerful than the fundies, at least when we want to be. We know how to go after the $$, and successfully, unlike the BS anti-gay organizations that try and fail at the same tactics every time.

  • Stev84

    Then why don’t they apply that rule to straight couples as well?

  • Don Chandler

    lol, had to look up symbiants–how could the AP be so stupid.

  • hollywoodstein

    Memo: It is over U.S. god botherers. No rear guard actions necessary. Come out of your caves. The war is over.
    We are now working on Africa and Russia. Thank you for your compliance.

  • hollywoodstein

    Really? Still? Clear as a bell. Let freedom ring.

  • They’re a right-leaning media conglomerate more afraid of pissing off fundamentalist Christian conservatives than they are of pissing off LGBT Americans.

  • SkippyFlipjack

    Seriously? You’ve got a screw loose.

  • SkippyFlipjack

    Funny, ‘with no hesitation about using husband and wife in the cases where that’s the appropriate term’ sounds suspiciously like the AP’s rule, except the AP leaves it to the couple to determine that, rather than the reporter who wants to make that determination himself.

  • judybrowni

    The policy isn’t even common sense: if someone is legally wed, they’re commonly called husband or wife.

    And looooooooooooooove how AP ignores the gender-neutral term for the legally-wed “spouse.”

  • caphillprof

    You can contact AP here:

    Call AP headquarters at 212.621.1500 or email [email protected] for general inquiries.


  • caphillprof

    AP makes the Third Reich look main stream

  • nicho

    The AP is a cooperative, which consists of the various giant media corporations. It is corporatist through and through and promotes the corporatist agenda.

  • kevinbgoode

    The AP policy has no ethical foundation and is clearly a product of heterosupremacist thinking.

  • Steve_in_CNJ

    Avoid language suggesting that “gays” are normal. For example, “Jones was accompanied by his partner and the partner’s parental units. The female unit noted that her spawn and Jones were symbiants since college.” Use quotes when an arcane synonym is not available. For example, the pair were civilly united in a “church” in NYC and spent their “honeymoon” somewhere before “settling down” somewhere else.

  • Mighty

    Is AP owned by right wingers? This confuses me.

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