GLAAD blasts AP over anti-gay bias: “What the hell is going on?”

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.
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GLAAD, the lead anti-defamation group in the gay community, which also serves as a monitor of anti-gay media bias, blasted the Associated Press today for its written policy of “generally” not treating legally-wed gay couples as legitimately married, even though those couples are in fact legally married.

GLAAD President Herndon Graddick said today:

“The AP needs to quit obfuscating and delaying and must fix its style guidance now so that reporters describe people in same-sex marriages accurately. That the Associated Press has let this issue drag on for a week is completely perplexing. What the hell is going on over on West 33rd Street?”

As regular readers of AMERICAblog know, the Associated Press wrote a recent clarification to its style guideline directing reporters to “generally” not refer to legally-wed gay people as “husband” or “wife.”  AP prefers that gay husbands and wives be called “partners,” a term that has nothing to do with marriage, while AP has no such preference for what to call heterosexuals who are married.

AP has been unable to explain why it believes only straight people are “generally” husbands or wives.

Gay couples are now able to legally marry in nine states and the District of Columbia.  And those marriages are not some different kind of marriage exclusive to gay people.  Rather, gay couples have been permitted access to the same marriage licenses and procedures that straight couples have traditionally had access to in those states.  We file the same forms, we receive the same marriage license.  It is quite literally “marriage.”

But for some reason that no one can discern, the Associated Press generally prefers to consider the legal marriages of gay couples in those states “civil unions,” which are not marriages at all.

After a week of this nonsense from the AP, including the AP spokesman issuing a lie last Thursday night to Buzzfeed, GLAAD has finally had it.

GLAAD is now demanding much more than an edit to AP’s bigoted and factually-incorrect style guidance.  GLAAD now wants a clarification in the AP Stylebook.

Without official clarification in the AP Stylebook, many reporters and editors – including those not with the AP – could look to the above paragraph as guidance, and would therefore apply that harmful double-standard to same-sex couples who are married.

We are well past the point of needing clarification to that one section of that internal memo. We need a solution that carries more weight.

The AP should codify, in the official AP Stylebook, what seems (in practice, if not in that paragraph) to already be its preferred terminology for same-sex married couples. Here are a couple of recent examples of AP getting it right, and GLAAD has never received a complaint about this issue. But that doesn’t necessarily mean this double standard hasn’t been applied in the past, or that it wouldn’t be applied in the future.

Here’s the bottom line. If you are a man, and you are married, you are “generally” a husband – regardless of the gender of your spouse. If you are a woman, and you are married, you are “generally” a wife – regardless of the gender of your spouse. Period.

Associated Press knows, better than maybe any other mainstream journalism organization, how married same-sex husbands and wives and their families throughout our entire nation are being continually and increasingly woven into the fabric of America.

It is AP’s journalistic responsibility to ensure that these couples and families are accurately portrayed moving forward.

My bottom line is even easier:

If he’s a man with a marriage license he’s a husband, and if she’s a woman with one she’s a wife.

 I’ve heard a lot of bizarre explanations for AP’s behavior.  Here are a few:

1. AP is showing “respect” for gay people.

The argument goes that gay people in marriages, unlike straight people in marriages, don’t want to be called husband or wife.  I’m unaware of this problem, as the gay people I know who get married aren’t exactly representative of the far left of the gay movement.  But let’s pretend they are.  And that some of them don’t want to be referred to as husband or wife.  Okay, they can ask the reporter not to use the term.  But the policy AP wrote down last week says the reporter can’t use the term husband or wife, even if the couple wants them to, unless they meet a rather strict test. That isn’t showing respect.

It’s also not clear why the same rule doesn’t apply to straight married couples, some of whom also might not like the terms husband and wife.  AP’s rule only applies to gay married couples, not straight married couples – why?  Does AP have different rules for inter-racial marriages than it has for whites-only and blacks-only marriages?

2. The terms husband and wife only apply to straight people.

Again, it’s not entirely clear why.  I’ve had a few people mention in the comments to this blog, “a man married to a woman is called a husband, but what do you call a man married to a man?” Answer: A husband.  The term husband is for the man in a marriage, and the term wife is for the woman.  If the wife dies, the husband doesn’t stop being a husband, simply because he no longer has a wife.

3. Gays aren’t permitted to marry in every state.

This argument begs a question.  It’s not a full argument.  So what if gays aren’t permitted to marry in every state?  Marriage is decided by the state law of the state you reside in.  That’s the way it works for heterosexuals and gay people both.  So what’s the confusion?  What matters is what your state’s law is, period.

Ah, but Alabama doesn’t recognize your New York marriage.  Okay, but again, so what?  Are you suggesting that Alabama readers will be confused if they read in an AP story that some guy in Iowa has a husband?  Here’s how you fix that: “Mr. Smith is survived by his husband, Richard, whom he married in New York last year after gay nuptials became legal in that state.”  See how easy that was?  You recognize the law, but at the same time you clarify any confusion for the reader.

4. But wouldn’t AP be caving to the gay agenda?

No, AP would be caving to state law, which is the final arbiter of who’s married and who isn’t in America.  If AP were caving to gay activists, they’d call us all married, even gay people who live in states where they can’t legally get married. (I’ve known gay people since the 1990s who referred to their boyfriends as their husbands since they couldn’t legally wed.) If you’re not legally married, you’re not married, and you’re not husband or wife.  If you are legally married then you are husband or wife.  It’s pretty straight forward for all sexual orientations.

5. It’s not really a “ban.”

AP’s defenders keep saying that AP didn’t really “ban” the terms husband and wife.  Really?  What do you call it when a wordsmith puts out a rule to its staff, and newspapers around the country, to “generally” not use a word, except for a narrow exemption for couples who “regularly used” the terms about themselves?  If that’s not a ban what is it?  Are restaurant smoking bans not really smoking “bans” because they generally don’t permit smoking in restaurants, except for a narrow exemption for outdoor seating?

6. But what about DOMA?

What about DOMA?  What does DOMA have to do with whether AP recognizes legitimate marriages?  DOMA has to do with federal benefits, not the legality of marriage.  Inter-racial marriages in the 1960s were actually illegal in some states. The Lovings in Virginia were arrested for being married.

At the age of 18, Mildred became pregnant, and in June 1958 the couple traveled to Washington, D.C. to marry, thereby evading Virginia’s Racial Integrity Act of 1924, which made interracial marriage a crime. They returned to the small town of Central Point, Virginia. Based on an anonymous tip,[8] local police raided their home at night, hoping to find them having sex, which was also a crime according to Virginia law. When the officers found the Lovings sleeping in their bed, Mildred pointed out their marriage certificate on the bedroom wall. That certificate became the evidence for the criminal charge of “cohabiting as man and wife, against the peace and dignity of the Commonwealth” that was brought against them.

DOMA doesn’t do that, it doesn’t ban gay marriages, it doesn’t make gay marriages illegal. It says that gay husbands and wives can’t receive federal benefits.  But it has nothing to do with whether the individual states can decide on their own who is and isn’t married, just like marriage law has always been decided.

Elizabeth Blackwell, first female doctorAs soon as the first state permitted gay couples to enter the institution of marriage, AP should have changed its rules.  This is no different than the first woman permitted to become a lawyer or a doctor (remember, at one time they couldn’t).  Just because every other medical school didn’t permit women to matriculate, did that make Elizabeth Blackwell any less a “doctor” when she graduated? And just because Alabama doesn’t permit gay people to marry, that doesn’t make gay people in New York or Iowa or Maine any less married.

The Associated Press never had a policy of recognizing unmarried straight people as married, or of refusing to recognize the legal marriages of those same people once they were in fact legally married under state law.  So why the confusion with gay people?  Just like with straight people, if we’re legally married by a state, we’re married, and if we’re not we’re not.  And if we are married, the English language already has tried and true terminology for describing men and women in such marriages.  Use it.


Follow me on Twitter: @aravosis | @americablog | @americabloggay | Facebook | Google+. John Aravosis is the editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown (1989); and worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, and as a stringer for the Economist. Frequent TV pundit: O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline & Reliable Sources. Bio, .

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  • caphillprof

    You are clearly wrong, because today you can get out of bed and go and get your self legally married.
    Subject: [americablog] Re: GLAAD blasts AP over anti-gay bias: “ What the hell is going on?”

  • HolyMoly

    I’m looking at my 1040EZ form, and it has a blank for “If married, spouse’s first name and initial” followed by “spouse’s social security number.” It doesn’t say “spouse or partner,” just “spouse.” Which according to dictionary.com would be “either member of a married pair in relation to the other; one’s husband or wife.” No mention of “one man and one woman,” just “married pair.” And although dictionary.com does not have the final say on the meaning of the word “spouse” in terms of its LEGAL definition, I can’t foresee that it could mean anything else. But both members of a spousal pair would be either a husband or wife, depending on gender.

    And since apparently the definition of marriage is determined at the state level, the term “spouse” would mean “husband/husband” or “wife/wife” as well as “husband/wife” in those states that have legalized same-sex marriage. It would seem to me that they would HAVE to eliminate any sort of definition relating to one man and one woman only if that is the way it had previously existed.

    As far as the AP is concerned, the default definition of the words “spouse,” “husband,” and “wife” should be the legally recognized definition. Obviously, if they’re referring to a couple who lives in a state where same-sex marriage is still not recognized, then they’re referring to a couple who is not legally married and therefore “partner” or “life partner” or whatever might (?) be appropriate. But a legally married gay couple? There’s only one correct way to write about it. A married gay couple may wish to be referred to by friends, family, whoever as “partners,” but the legal definition is still what it is: Spouse, husband, wife. When they fill out their state taxes, there’s no box for “partner” to fill in. So for all intents and purposes, the AP should use as their default the legal definition.

    For the sake of discussion, based on what I wrote in the previous paragraph, what about a couple who lives in, say, Alabama, but who took a trip to New York to get legally married? Their marriage is recognized in one state but not the other, but the fact is that they ARE legally married in at least 2% of the country (more if other states with same-sex marriage also recognize them). How, then, should the AP refer to that couple? Or should it depend on the geographical location of the couple at the time they were interviewed?

    And one other question for the sake of discussion. When filling out federal tax returns, can a legally married gay couple fill their federal forms out as spouses? Is the federal government obligated to recognize their marriage?

  • DonS

    The AP is the mouthpiece for reactionary thinking on many fronts. This is not the only problem. To state the obvious, they stand as gatekeepers of the MSM. And the PTB do everything they can to stay in the good graces of AP. Let’s be honest, the PTB, including Obama, don’t give a shit about progressive values (except to shill for money an votes). Otherwise they would be, think and act as progressives.

  • Stephen Clark

    Isn’t it about time for copy editors to stop freaking out every time they see the word “gay”? The obsessive closeting of gay people by the news media is just another form of anti-gay bias.

    The sentence does not even say the men are gay to start with. It says the state legalized gay marriage. It’s become a shorthand form for same-sex marriage, and I don’t think the purely theoretical possibility of two straight men marrying each other merits grammatical gnashing of teeth over the term.

    “Same-gender marriage” is the most objectionable of all, as gender has come to refer not to one’s sex but to one’s identification with the masculine or feminine. A “same-gender marriage” could be a marriage between a feminine woman and an effeminate man, or a manly man and a butch woman.

  • Stephen Clark

    John specifically referred to the *1990s* and *legally wed.* Until the year 2001, there was no state or country on the planet where same-sex couples could be legally married. That year, the Netherlands became the first place to allow gay marriage.

  • Stephen Clark

    The AP’s rationale does not seem that obscure to me. They have accepted the view that the words “marriage,” “husband,” “wife,” and “spouse” are exclusively opposite-sex in traditional usage. Extending those words to same-sex relationships, in their view, is a non-standard usage. They will only publish what they have decided is a misuse of the words if they can attribute the “misuse” to the gay couples themselves. Of course, there is the little problem that nine states and a dozen countries are already using the words in precisely that way, so it is hardly a “misuse.”

    This is the same crew who decreed that “homophobia” no longer exists in the English language but which has no problem with “xenophobia,” even though it fails exactly the same pedantic–and faulty–reasoning they used to ban “homophobia.”

    They are systemically eradicating usages that offend right-wing bigots.

  • Jafafa Hots

    One thing this whole thing ignores is common-law marriages.
    Hetero couples who have been living together without a marriage license for years are often referred to as husband or wife, or at least commonlaw husband, commonlaw wife, etc. in the press.

    So if you’re straight, you don’t even NEED to “get” married to have the term applied to you, it’s taken as a given in many states, and in fact you’re even considered legally married without having bothered to go DO it.

    I wonder if the states which have commonlaw marriage and same-sex marriage, like NY, will consider same sex couples who have lived together in NY for decades to be married, as they would for heterosexual couples?

  • ComradeRutherford

    The AP was taken over by far-right extremists years ago. They are merely asserting their opinion on the news.

  • Naja pallida

    Remove the second m in Mormon, and you’re on the right track.

  • http://AMERICAblog.com/ John Aravosis

    Well, you get the point. We can haggle over the details.

  • olandp

    My point is, if I find someone dumb enough to be in a committed relationship with me, even though we live in a state that does not have SSM (in my case Florida), if we were to consider ourselves married, he would be my husband. It is up to the couple to define their relationship, not the AP, or anyone else. If the fictional “we” were to live in a state that had legal SSM that would be a different story.

    I hope I made that clearer.

  • bbock

    It shouldn’t be required to A) state where someone was married. B) classify their marriage as being a result of “gay nuptials”. Who uses “nuptials”? And specifying “gay nuptials” or saying someone was “gay married” is inaccurate. I wasn’t “gay married”. I was married. My license is the same as any other couple who were married on that day. The state didn’t give us a pink license printed with upside down triangles. People who are married in other states or other countries aren’t expected to have this fact disclosed if they are heterosexual. I see no reason to require it from same sex couples.

  • MyrddinWilt

    Did AP get taken over by Mormons or something? Or does it stand for Alabama Press?

    I can’t believe we are still having these debates.

  • caphillprof

    What the Catholic Church does or does not do regarding canonical marriage is not really relevant. Also common law marriages have been increasingly prohibited in many US states. We’ve now reached the point where even gay people need to conform. If you want to be husband and husband or wife and wife, then go get legally married.

  • olandp

    I have to disagree with this statement… “(I’ve known gay people since the 1990s who referred to their boyfriends as their husbands since they couldn’t legally wed.)” and its meaning in your article. Before same-sex marriage was legal and in places that it is not yet legal it is up to the couple to decide if they are married. The Catholic Church (we all know my feelings about them, check my commenting history) does not recognize a whole slew of marriages but they are none the less legally valid. While it is true that SSM is not legal in many states, those who marry elsewhere, or who merely consider themselves married may refer to themselves in any way they choose. We should respect their choices.

  • http://mexfiles.net Richard Grabman

    Forgive a slightly anal correction (anality being an occupational hazard of copy editors), but in your point 3 comment you write “Mr. Smith is survived by his husband, Richard, whom he married in New
    York last year after gay nuptials became legal in that state.” Unless it is relevant to the story that Mr. Smith and his husband Richard are gay (and they might have contracted nuptials for any number of reasons), one would write “same-gender nuptials”…. that is, assuming the fact that the change in a state’s law had anything to do with the fact that Mr. Smith was survived by his husband, Richard.

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