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.
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.
“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, 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.
As 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.