Day 3 of AP’s ban on words “husband,” “wife” for legally-wed gays

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: A lead AP reporter, David Crary, seems to indicate that he will not follow AP’s new separate-but-equal edict on gay marriages.

I’d written two days ago about the Associated Press’ bizarre decision not to recognize the legally-performed marriages of gay couples in US states, and presumably foreign countries, where such same-sex marriages aren’t just legal, they’re simply “marriages.”

But not if you ask AP.  For reasons the august media entity has yet been able to verbalize, AP decided unilaterally two days ago that if two gay people get married legally, it’s not really the same thing as two straight people getting married, so the AP needs different rules about how to refer to gay people who are married.  I’d call the AP’s new policy “separate but equal,” but it’s not even equal.

A Happy Valentines middle-finger to gay people nationwide

The AP has decided to ban the use of the terms husband and wife to refer to legally-married gay men and women unless a certain set of conditions are met.  Mind you, AP has no conditions for when it recognizes the legal marriages of straight people.  Those conditions in which AP will use “husband” or “wife” for married gay people are:

1. If those husbands and wives in question “have regularly used those terms.”  Why?  People aren’t husband and wife if they don’t regularly the term husband and wife, but they are if they do?  And is this AP’s rule for legally-married straight people too? No, or AP would have said that their rule applies to “marriages” period, and they didn’t.  And what does “regularly used” mean? Is AP going to quiz their friends, and anyone has called their spouse their “wife” ten times in the past week will be called husband or wife, but if you only used the term 9 times, you’re just bosom buddies?

2. AP will use the terms in quotes if the gay husband or wife uses the term in a quote.  In other words, AP won’t really be endorsing the usage, they’re just quoting those crazy fringe gay people using them, so the reader won’t be confused as to think the gay couple is legally married, even though it is.

Dan Savage official wedding photo, courtesy of Nate Gawdy (Seattle Gay News). Dan told me I could post it. :)

Dan Savage and his husband Terry, whose legal marriage in Washington State was recently overturned by the Associated Press. Photo, courtesy of Nate Gawdy (Seattle Gay News)

AP considers gay marriages akin to civil unions, but not straight marriages

AP went on to explain that “Generally AP uses couples or partners to describe people in civil unions or same-sex marriages.” Again, why?  Civil unions are not the same thing as same-sex marriages – or as we, and the law, like to call them, “marriages.”  While it is entirely appropriate for AP to look for a term to call any spouse that isn’t married, it is entirely inappropriate for the AP to not only dumb-down marriage by suggesting that there are limits to the use of terms husband and wife, but then to once again suggest that a legal marriage of a gay couple is somehow lesser, and only equal to a civil union, which we all know is not a marriage.

And of course, it didn’t take long for someone to pen a homophobic piece in defense of AP’s homophobic policy.  Slate’s Jeffrey Bloomer, who may or may not be gay (the story was unclear), took issue with those of us who took issue with AP taking issue with our legal marriages.

Questioning an established fact is taking sides

Bloomer claimed: “In truth, the AP didn’t ban anything, nor did it say “husband” and “wife” are reserved for opposite-sex couples.”

Right.  AP didn’t ban the use of husband and wife, except of course they did ban the words’ use if you can’t prove that you “regularly” used the terms, whatever that means, and which will be awfully difficult to prove if it’s, say, your obituary AP is writing.

More from Bloomer:

No ban, and really, no strong preference on the matter.

Yes.  I say black people are genetically equal to whites.  The KKK says blacks are genetically inferior.  A third hypothetical person, let’s call him Beffrey Jloomer, says it’s not entirely clear if blacks are genetically equal to whites as sometimes they are and sometimes they’re not.  That’s not racism.  That’s simply Jloomer signaling “no strong preference on the matter.”

When you express no strong preference on a matter of settled fact – Marco Rubio’s wonderful gaffe about the age of the earth comes to mind – you are not “objective.”  It is not an open question as to whether gay people in nine states and the District of Columbia are legally married.  They are.  They may be denied certain federal rights under the Defense of Marriage Act, but that has nothing to do with whether they are legally married.  They are.

DOMA doesn’t ban gay marriage, and it does’t apply to the AP

I had to bring up DOMA because I joked in my earlier piece that maybe AP was worried that DOMA applied to it.  And what do you know – Bloomer mentions DOMA as a reason for AP to reject legal gay marriages as legal.

The Associated Press does not have an opinion on gay marriage, to be clear, because that isn’t its role. This memo doesn’t imply one. The AP is a news organization, and the fact is that legal gay marriage remains an elusive thing, even in U.S. states that allow it, because the Defense of Marriage Act prevents full equality.

I’m going to assume that Bloomer is only playing a lawyer in print, because I am a lawyer, and Bloomer is nuts if he thinks that’s what DOMA says.  DOMA says two things.  1. No state can force another state to recognize its marriages of same-sex couples. And 2. The definition of “marriage” when dishing out federal benefits means only one man and one woman.  DOMA says nothing about whether gay men and women can get married.  It’s simply dealing with benefits.  It does not ban gay marriage.  It is irrelevant if DOMA precludes gay couples from achieving full equality.  So does not having ENDA passed.  That doesn’t mean gay couples aren’t legally married in Iowa and Maine because we haven’t yet passed ENDA.

But let’s play the “full equality” game for a moment. In some countries where marriages of same-sex couples have been legalized, full adoption rights have lagged behind. Let’s say the same thing were to happen in America.  Congress repeals DOMA, the Supreme Court strikes down laws barring gay marriages, and marriage equality becomes the law of the land.  But, like in some places abroad, they still hold back on adoption rights.  We would not be fully equal, but we would be absolutely positively “married” in every state of the Union, and under federal law.  Would AP and Bloomer suggest that we’re not really married, and they can’t use the terms husband and wife, because we don’t have “full equality”?

But why stop there?  Straight foreign couples aren’t treated equally under US law in terms of receiving federal benefits either. They get none, because they’re foreigners.  Do we not recognize their marriages?  But let’s take the analogy one step further – foreigners can’t get married to each other in the US if they don’t meet the county’s residency requirements.  So how wil the AP refer to foreign couples who are legally wed in their own countries but who can’t be married in the US?

And what about foreign gay weddings?  I’m assuming the Associated Press has wiped them out too.

Not to mention, even after we get full marriage equality in America, what’s AP going to do about posting its stories on the Web, lest some someone in Nigeria read the story, and they don’t have gay marriage in Nigeria?  Oh the confusion.  Will AP not call us husband and wife, unreservedly, until the most homophobic countries on the planet adopt marriage equality as well?  Because let’s face it, this argument about various US states having various laws on gay marriage is very pre-Internet.  The Associated Press publishes for a worldwide, not an American, audience.  So why use an American standard at all for deciding what we call married couples?

If you make an exception, make it for straight marriages too

This line from Bloomer is my favorite.

Gay people, married and unmarried, argue over what to call each other in relationships, and pretty much everyone has an opinion. I am in a domestic partnership in a state that only recently approved gay marriage, but I still prefer “boyfriend.” Many others have different preferences. Do two gay men become “husband and husband” by default just because they can get “legally married,” whatever we take that to mean?

Oh, now you done it, Lucy.  First off, your domestic partnership has absolutely no bearing on what married people call themselves. You’re not married, and the issue at hand is not what we call people in domestic partnerships.  So no one cares if you and your domestic partner have fights about what to call each other (though I have some thoughts). The issue here is what to call married people.  And the suggestion that gay people are divided over whether they’re husbands or wives when they go to get legally married is bull.  It’s also irrelevant.

First why it’s bull.  One reader tweeted about this controversy the other day:

Screen Shot 2013-02-12 at 3.54.05 PM

While the issue of marriage is a contentious one among some segments of the gay community, who oppose the whole idea of getting married, it’s not contentious among people who get married.  And even if it were contentious, that’s the standard of journalism we’re practicing now – AP and Slate have decided that people are no longer husband and wife if they have the wrong, or at least a conflicted, “opinion” about their marriage.

But let’s say, arguendo, that we accept AP’s, and now Bloomer’s, new rule that married gay couples are not to be called “husband” and “wife” if they “argue over what to call each other.”  Does Bloomer have the same don’t-say-husband-and-wife rule for straight married couples who argue over what to call each other?  Does AP?


So this isn’t about any “confusion” over what to call, or respect for, married people who might not like the terms husband and wife, as the AP appears to not have a similar policy that applies to the confused marriages of heterosexual couples.  The AP’s bizarre, contorted, discriminatory policy only applies to gay marriages, not straight ones.  And therein lies the discrimination, the subjectivity, and the taking of sides.

Gay people in Connecticut, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Vermont, Washington state, and Washington, DC are “married” when they get married.  Just like straight people in those states. It’s offensive for Bloomer and the AP to suggest that they are not, whatever the reason.  This is not a matter of opinion. It’s a matter of law.  The courts and/or legislatures, in some states along with the people, have ruled under law that these people are legally married.  And it’s not AP’s job, nor its right, to decide by rhetorical fiat that they are not.

If AP and Bloomer are suggesting that it might get confusing to AP’s nationwide readers, in non-gay-marriage states, then that’s a different argument.  But it’s not terribly difficult in an article being published in Arkansas about a gay couple, in which you mention that they are husband and husband, to throw in a line that they were married in Iowa where the marriages of gay couples were recently legalized.  If you’re afraid of some confusion, then use your words to clarify.  It’s a heck of a better solution than hoping to clarify through censorship.

Why does the AP not apply the same rule to straight first-cousins?

One final point, and this is important.  There is a situation, akin to gay marriage, in which couples are permitted to marry in some American states, but not others.  It happens when the bride and groom are first cousins.

Twenty-five states prohibit marriages between first cousins. Six states allow first cousin marriage under certain circumstances, and North Carolina allows first cousin marriage but prohibits double-cousin marriage. States generally recognize marriages of first cousins married in a state where such marriages are legal.

So why doesn’t AP have special rules for writing about first cousins too? It’s not a perfect analogy.  But the point is, it’s not AP’s job to decide who is and isn’t married, as Bloomer the confused writer for Slate notes – it’s the state’s job, and at least 9 of the states and DC have settled the matter.  It’s AP’s job to report facts as facts.  And if a couple is legally married in their home state, which is where marriage law in the US is generally decided, then they are married, period.  And if the AP wants to make exceptions, based on some weird standard of how often people use the terms husband or wife, then that weird standard should apply equally to all legal marriages, gay and straight.

The very fact that AP’s policy, weird as it is, doesn’t apply equally to all legal marriages makes the new policy de facto discriminatory, biased, and wrong.

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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