Gay man writes AP to let them know it’s okay to call him “husband”

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.

Chris Geidner at Buzzfeed reports a delicious story of a gay man who has contacted the Associated Press to let them know that if they ever decide to write a story about him and/or his husband, they would like AP to refer their husband as “husband.”

The man, Dr. Mark Bitgood, told Geidner that he’s doing this in response to AP’s policy of “generally” not referring to legally-wed gay people as “husband” or “wife,” but rather using the factually and legally incorrect, and confusing, term “partners.”

AP has said that its reporters should only use the terms “husband” or “wife” for legally-wed gay people under two very limited circumstances:

1. In a quote.

2. If the married couple in question has “regularly used” the terms “husband” or “wife” about themselves.  (No such test exists for AP’s treatment of the legal marriages of straight couples, perhaps because their marriages aren’t icky.)

Gay Parents

Remember kids, only the Associated Press can create a family. (Gay Parents via Shutterstock)

The problem, of course, is how you define both “regular” and “use.” And worse yet, how do you prove it?  Do gay couples need to keep Nixonian-style tape recorders running in secret in their homes all the time to catch them using the term “oh husband!” while they plot the demise of traditional marriage?  And even that proof is suspect, as the gay couple in question “knew” the recorders were there, so maybe they faked the evidence, just in case one day AP might write a story about them.

It’s all so confusing.  It’s a wonder AP can figure out what to call straight people when they’re married.  If only the English language had a term for a man who is legally married, and for a woman who is legally married.

But since the Associated Press is now interested in determining exactly how every single married gay person who might be in one of their stories “regularly” refers to themselves or their spouse in private, on a case-by-case basis, Dr. Bitgood thought he’d get ahead of the game and contact AP directly, just to let them know his preference in advance.  Here’s Geidner:

After hearing about the AP guidance, though, Bitwood asked his friend, David Steinberg — the copy desk chief at the San Francisco Chronicle and former president of the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association — a question on Facebook.

“You don’t, by chance, know of a person at the AP whom I and perhaps others might contact with our preference as to the designation of our spouses — you know, for their records? Just in case?” he asked. “I’m sure that lots of people would love to update their status with the AP.”

Steinberg responded simply, “I suppose you could write to: Tom Kent, the standards editor, [email protected], [and] David Minthorn, AP stylebook editor, [email protected].”

Geidner reports that Bitgood went on to send Kent and Minthorn emails letting them know that he and his husband would prefer to be referred to as “husband.”

If only the rest of us had a way of contacting the Associated Press and letting them know what term we’d like them to use if they ever write a story about us, our husbands, or our wives.

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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19 Responses to “Gay man writes AP to let them know it’s okay to call him “husband””

  1. Jafafa Hots says:

    Wait, are you one of those people who, when confronted with a gay couple, asks “Which one of you is the ‘wife’ and which one of you is the ‘husband?'”

  2. Dan in Houston says:

    I left one, (Tom is out of the office)


    My husband and I have been married in the eyes of our God and our church for over 27 years. We had a church wedding back then, although the law would not allow our church to call our wedding a wedding. Two years ago, we were legally married in Connecticut. Although we have lived in Texas all this time, we consider ourselves married, and have used the terminology (husband) for 27 years. We would appreciate the respect of the use of that terminology if you should ever write about us.


    Dan Lindquist
    John Lindquist
    Houston, Tx.

  3. BeccaM says:


  4. bbock says:


  5. bbock says:

    Wow. So you also prescribe particular roles in a marriage to “wife” and “husband”, roles which have become blurred by straight couples. Women earn livings. Men can help raise the kids and do housework and cook dinner. The words “wife” and “husband” no longer connote marital duties. That is something married couples negotiate with each other.

    Your post seems to recall the ignorance of a time which is hopefully passing, where people would ask “Which one of you is the wife?”

    I only use spouse in a general way when I’m being gender neutral about a group or when I’m talking abstractly. When you refer to actual people, you should use husband or wife.

  6. karmanot says:

    You seem to be an expert on what ‘they’ think. Your’s is the pitty trollena.

  7. karmanot says:

    Well done!

  8. Skeptical Cicada says:

    The AP does not allow use of the word “spouse” either, dear. Try to keep up.

    There is nothing respectful whatsoever in a heterosexual-dominated organization issuing a fiat declaring that gays and lesbians shall be presented to the world as unmarried “partners” unless we demand accurate reporting of our marriages!!! Could you miss the fucking point any worse?

    And please stop imposing ’70s heterosexual feminism on gays and lesbians. There is nothing more gender-disrupting than one man correcting somebody who asks about his “wife” by saying, “I have a husband.” Here, it is the USE of gendered terms that is a direct attack on gender stereotypes, the stereotypes that say men can only have wives and women can only have husbands.

    For pity’s sake, CUT the arrogance.

  9. Inis Magrath says:

    I’m a straight guy married to a straight woman. There is no subservience in our marriage, unless you’re referring to the roll of who has to take out the garbage. But, if the lack of subservience in my 1-man-1-woman marriage serves to upset right-wing intolerant Christian conservatives, then at least I can smile every time I take out that garbage.

  10. BeccaM says:

    Being told we may not use the term ‘wife’ when referring to each other, to myself and my WIFE, is a way of saying that our marriage isn’t equivalent to heterosexual marriages and therefore not really real.

    It is not respectful. It is exclusionary and prejudicial. The only reason we’ll use ‘partner’ or ‘spouse’ is because they’re forced upon us by ignorant homophobes who get all freaky, irrational, and violent when we dare to use terms to which they object.

    By the way, the whole ‘wife subservient to husband’ thing was rejected decades ago when most couples opted to eschew the old chattel-status “love honor and OBEY” line in marriage vows for a prospective wife.

    How would you like it if you were told you may not be called Ms. or Mrs., and told you may only use the term “gentleperson” with reference to yourself, because it’s gender-neutral and the presumption therefore is perhaps you’re not being gender compliant in your behavior and role?

  11. BeccaM says:

    Here’s mine:

    Dear Gentlepersons Kent and Minthorn,

    (First, please know that I used the gender-neutral title with intended respect, because these days “Mister” or its abbreviated “Mr.” is not often used in casual conversation, and quite frankly “sir” used to be reserved only for formally knighted men of royal peerage. Not having on record what you yourselves prefer to be called, I have adopted the least confusing and non-controversial variant.)

    It has come to my attention, and to many gay and lesbian married couples, that the Associated Press is confused with respect to what we shall be called whenever you write articles about us. It’s quite funny, really, because that reminds me so much of how it was for gay and lesbian couples a generation or two ago, when it was quite common for well-meaning but ignorant strangers to ask a gay couple, “Which of you is the wife?” Or of a lesbian couple, “Which is the husband?” — a question asked, always, completely unconscious as to how rude it was to make such an uninformed and presumptuous inquiry.

    I imagine this was not unlike the awkward social situations for a mixed-race couple back in the 1950s or 60s, when the Caucasian half of the pair might be asked how long they’ve had their African American
    companion in their employ as a servant.

    Encountering a multi-national news corporation in 2013, with thousands of employees and affiliates, with revenues in the hundreds of millions of dollars each year, and learning they still embrace the quaint, yet uninformed notion that gay and lesbian couples object to or customarily eschew traditional gender-specific terminology within their marriages…well, it is like suddenly finding a Buffalo Nickel coin in the back corner of an antique armoire, stuck to the wood with an ancient well-chewed wad of gum. You want to retrieve that nickel so you can look at it, but that crusty old gum makes you vaguely sick to your stomach.

    I would like to inform you, dear gentlepersons Kent and Minthorn, since I have been informed that you are jointly responsible for standards and style for AP, that gay and lesbian couples have been using the traditional terms “husband” and “wife” (without the scare-quotes) in their gender-accurate mode since before same-sex marriage became legal in nine states and the District of Columbia (and in dozens of countries worldwide), also including those in Civil Unions and Domestic Partnerships, and even those of us in states that legislatively or constitutionally ban same-sex marriages. If we ever use ‘partner’ or ‘spouse,’ it is because some legal entity forces the term upon us, or because we’ve encountered a homophobic bigot and are afraid they will turn violent.

    (Oh dear, I apologize for using the word ‘homophobic,’ as I’ve been given to understand that term has also been excised from your style guide. Very well then: “Irrationally gay-hating bigot.”)

    Those, like my wife and myself, who were married in a private religious ceremony in the late 1990s, before California passed its domestic partnership laws, have always used the term ‘wife’ when referring to each other. Not just “regularly” as the AP requires before it will use the term in articles, but exclusively. Since the Associated Press requires that we make it clear to you that we use these terms, I ask that you add us to the database you must surely be creating, to help keep track of us and our terminology preferences.

    (Here’s a hint: Nearly everyone you hear from will say they prefer the gender-appropriate culturally traditional marital title. Just because you do not hear from a given couple, you should not illogically assume they prefer the neutral, emotionally empty terms “spouse” or “partner.” Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.)

    I bid you both, dear gentlepersons, a good day.

    Best regards,
    BeccaM, wife

  12. mirror says:

    So, you re asuggesting that two opposite-sex people who are married should be referred to by the term corresponsing to traditional role they play in the marriage rather than by their gender? That would certainly be confusing for my family and son, in a way that having two moms who call eachother wives is totally not confusing to his friend up the street or anyone else.

  13. Stev84 says:

    Not this crap again *facepalm*

    There are two husbands or two wives in a same-sex marriage. Not one who plays husband and one who plays wife. Grow the fuck up.

  14. kingstonbears says:

    Sorry, but that’s bs. Nobody has the right to define how my husband and I refer to each other. Time to get over the “equal but different” crap. And, yes, my HUSBAND and I have both contacted AP to inform them that it is OUR decision to be referred to as husbands and to make sure that their files reflect this accordingly.

  15. Paul Madley says:

    // If only the rest of us had a way of contacting the Associated Press and letting them know what term we’d like them to use if they ever write a story about us //

    You do! It’s right there in your article :)

  16. But there is something true at the heart of this. Something that is typical of most gay couples I know is that they reject stereotypical gender roles—something said to be very much at the heart of why Christian conservatives are so hotly against it. This is a large part of what they mean when they say “redefine marriage.” They mean that the partners are equal, and there is no “wife” to be subservient to the “husband”—something they apparently find deeply upsetting.

    Their hesitance to use the words “wife” or “husband” is actually respectful in one sense—they are not presuming that the people cast themselves in a particular role.

    And for pity’s sake, there IS a gender-neutral word: “spouse.”

  17. bbock says:

    I sent the following email to the two email addresses listed:

    Dear Messrs Kent and Minthorn,

    I hope you will reconsider your policy of unnecessarily having a different word for a married man or woman depending on the gender of his or her spouse. Men are customarily referred to as “husband” and women as “wife”. I see no logic in having a separate rule for the spouses in marriage between two men or between two women compared to a marriage between a man and a woman.

    For the record, my husband and I would like you to use the word “husband” to describe our relationship to each other. We were married in California during the brief period of time in which such marriages were deemed legal. We deeply resent any attempt to strip us of this distinction. I’m not sure if the decision was made out of ignorance, bigotry or some other factor. But the beauty of style is that it changes with the times. I hope you will see that the tide of history is not in favor of your current policy statement and that you will eliminate any appearance of bigotry from your Style Guide.

    I have seen argument by some people that not all gay married couples use the word “husband”. But the same could be said for married men and women. But the societal norm is to default to calling men “husband” and women “wives”. If the individuals express a desire to be otherwise defined, then that wish should be honored within reason. Branding gay and lesbian marriages as apart from straight marriages is to imply they are not the same thing — or that they are less than — their straight counterparts.

    Thank you for your consideration of this issue. It may seem to be a trivial matter to you, but I think you’d agree that you would not appreciate having to continually define the most important relationships in your lives for strangers. You would not want to spend your energy defending those relationships as being equal. Please show some respect.

  18. John W says:


    Dear Mr. Kent and Mr. Minthorn,

    In an effort to assist the meticulous record-keeping that
    the AP will need to undertake in order to properly implement its new
    policy regarding spousal terminology for same-sex couples, please note
    for your records that we wish to be called “husbands”. Without the quotation marks, of course.

    Thank you.

  19. caphillprof says:

    Thanks for the email addresses.

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