AP’s first usage guidelines on ‘husband, wife’

The new entry comes in response to anger over a memo to avoid the words to describe gay couples

Last week, Jim Romenesko published an internal memo from the Associated Press about how to refer to gay and lesbian couples. The memo said that general practice was to refer to same-sex couples, even married ones, as partners or couples, instead of using the words “husband” and “wife.”

A brouhaha ensued, and the AP has now issued its first-ever entry in the AP Stylebook Online for the terms “husband” and “wife” in response. The entry will also appear in the print edition and Stylebook Mobile.

The Associated Press sent this new entry exclusively to CJR after notifying staff. I’ll write about it tomorrow in my weekly Minority Reports column. For now, here’s the entry:

husband, wife Regardless of sexual orientation, husband or wife is acceptable in all references to individuals in any legally recognized marriage. Spouse or partner may be used if requested.

The only comment came from AP Senior Managing Editor for US News Mike Oreskes, a member of CJR’s board of overseers, who said:

“The AP has never had a Stylebook entry on the question of the usage of husband and wife. All the previous conversation was in the absence of such a formal entry. This lays down clear and simple usage. After reviewing existing practice, we are formalizing ‘husband, wife’ as an entry.”

The Associated Press has consistently excellent coverage of gay and lesbian issues and last week’s misstep seemed out of character (although I know some will disagree with me; not long ago, AP took homophobia out of the stylebook to similar criticism.) I’m happy to see that they listened to their many (correctly angry) critics, including the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, and issued a new stylebook entry that is concise, fair — and truthful. Gay and lesbian couples who are married in the nine states where it’s legal, plus the District of Columbia, are, in fact, entitled to call themselves “husband” or “wife.” It is not a subjective notation, but a descriptive one. And it’s right that the Associated Press says so.

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Jennifer Vanasco is a is a news editor at WNYC and the former editor in chief of MTV Network's LGBT news site 365gay.com. She writes about social minorities, national politics, and culture. Her award-winning newspaper column on gay and women's issues ran for 15 years. Tags: , ,