Instead, it may have been a simple mistake, where a too-hasty response was written after a query came in from one of AP’s member editors. One source suggested that the guidance may have been meant to be flexible, leaving the question of what to call a gay person’s spouse up to the gay people involved (That’s what Slate thought, too). Or, of course, it may have come from ignorance or a misunderstanding of what the legal reality is for gay people in states where they can marry. I can’t know for sure, because neither those who sent out the original memo nor the AP’s spokesman are commenting beyond the release of the new Stylebook entry.
I wish they would tell us what happened, because a look into the reasoning behind the initial two memos would be helpful. If the point of those original memos was, in fact, to restrict the words “husband” and “wife” to heterosexuals only, then they owe the gay community an apology. However, if it was just an honest, rushed mistake, they should own up to it with a simple admission of error, which is what news organizations do when they get something wrong.
And the Associated Press — or those few individuals who created the memo — got this wrong at first, pure and simple. Gay and gay-friendly organizations, media outlets, and writers were completely correct to be both worried and outraged. The Associated Press should have made this husband-and-wife addition to its stylebook within a few days of the original memo, not 10 days later. Those 10 days allowed concern to become anger and anger to become fury, in the process painting the entire organization as bigoted, which it is absolutely not.
Though I must say, a late revision is certainly better than no revision at all. It is a good one, and I’m glad they made it.