AP now lying about policy of not recognizing legal marriages of 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.

I’ve been reporting all week on the growing brouhaha enveloping the Associated Press (AP) over its bizarre insistence that the legally-conducted marriages of gay couples, in the nine states (and DC) that permit gay people to marry, are not real marriages.

Rather, says AP, these legal marriages of gay couples are akin to “civil unions,” and thus AP “generally uses” the terms “couples” or “partners” to refer to legally-wed gay spouses.

When was the last time you heard anyone, let alone AP, refer to a married heterosexual couple as “partners”?

Adding fuel to the flame is a new statement released by AP to Chris Geidner of Buzzfeed.  In its statement, the AP spokesman lied about the company’s policy on this matter.

Here’s Geidner:

The Associated Press is holding firm against criticism — some of it internal — of a Feb. 11 guidance issued to its reporters and editors that they were to “[g]enerally … [use] couples or partners to describe people in civil unions or same-sex marriages.”

AP spokesman Paul Colford told BuzzFeed Thursday evening, “This week’s style guidance reaffirmed AP’s existing practice. We’ve used husband and wife in the past for same-sex married couples and have made clear that reporters can continue to do so going forward.” [emphasis added]

Let me repeat that last part: ” We’ve used husband and wife in the past for same-sex married couples and have made clear that reporters can continue to do so going forward.”

That first part about using husband and wife in the past may or may not be true, but the second part, suggesting that AP reporters can use, at will, the terms husband or wife for married gay people, is flat-out untrue, unless AP is now suggesting that its revered “style guidance” department is irrelevant, routinely ignored, and should be routinely ignored, by its own reporters.

In fact, AP’s style guidance (quoted in full at the end of this article) explicitly gives two scenarios – two and only two – in which AP reporters may (or should) use “husband” or “wife” to describe the participants in a legal marriage of two gay people:

1. When one of the gay spouses being written about mentions the term husband or wife in a quote,  and AP uses the quote.  (I.e., The couple could call themselves “blueberries,” and AP would quote it, since publishing a quote doesn’t necessarily mean that AP agrees with, or endorses, the substance of that quote.  This is a modified version of the scare-quote defense: “If it’s in quotes, we don’t really mean it.”)

2. AP reporters may use the terms husband and wife if the gay couple “regularly uses” the terms husband or wife about themselves.  (And no one has any idea what “regularly uses” means.)

That’s it.  In all other cases, AP reporters were told this week – pardon me, we’re reaffirmed this week – that they are not to, or at the very least should not, use the terms husband and wife about legally-married gay couples.  And AP, in its leaked style guidance, went so far as to suggest alternatives that AP prefers their reporters use when describing legally-wed gay couples:

“Generally AP uses couples or partners to describe people in civil unions or same-sex marriages.”

Color me confused.  One one hand, the spokesman says AP uses husband and wife all the time about gay spouses.  Yet the style guidance says no, AP generally use couples or partners.  So which one is it, do they generally use husband and wife, or couples and partners?

Not to mention, in its style guidance AP has delineated only two limited scenarios in which it wishes its reporters to use the terms husband and wife for gay spouses, instead of couples and partners.   So how, where, and when did AP make clear that reporters can continue using the terms husband and wife going forward since the style guidance, which is where AP generally makes such things clear, says not to use husband and wife unless one of two limited scenarios is met.

AP’s spokesman’s statement is simply untrue.  His statement would have been correct had he said:

“We’ve used husband and wife in the past for same-sex married couples and have made clear that reporters can continue to do so going forward if one of two circumstances are met.”

But that’s not what he said. He tried to make it look like AP reporters are free to use husband and wife to describe gay couples whenever they want.  And if that were the case, then why does AP have a style guideline that completely contradicts that assertion?  And if reporters are fine using husband and wife whenever they wish, then why is AP refusing to get rid of the contradictory style guideline?  Not to mention, why have the style guideline at all if AP is now suggesting that its reporters never obey the style guideline anyway?

gay marriage

Gay marriage via Shutterstock

As for AP’s claim that this week’s leaked style guidance simply reaffirms existing practice, how is that a defense of a bigoted, outdated, and factually incorrect style guidance?  “That’s the way we’ve always done it,” AP is now claiming.  Maybe, but it’s wrong.

But of course. even that argument is flawed.  Is AP actually suggesting that it’s using old style guidance written for civil unions to describe marriages of gay people, which are a relatively new phenomenon?  AP didn’t, and won’t, update its style guidance to reflect that we now have a new legal structure for gay people – or in fact, we have always had a very old structure to which gay people have only now been permitted access.  Why not?

This, by the way, is AP’s style guidance on how to handle the marriages of gay people, that was leaked this week:

SAME-SEX COUPLES: We were asked how to report about same-sex couples who call themselves “husband” and “wife.” Our view is that such terms may be used in AP content if those involved have regularly used those terms (“Smith is survived by his husband, John Jones”) or in quotes attributed to them. Generally AP uses couples or partners to describe people in civil unions or same-sex marriages.

And, “generally,” AP would never default to the term “partner” to describe spouses in a heterosexual marriage, so why does it generally use that term for gay people who are married?

Until the Associated Press can provide a convincing argument for why it has set up a separate-but-equal style guideline to describe the “difference” between one person’s legal marriage and another person’s legal marriage, simply because one spouse is gay and the other straight, this problem will not go away, and in fact, it’s going to get a lot worse.

We are never going to agree to disagree about whether the Associated Press has the right to vitiate our legal marriages simply because the people who write AP’s style guidance either find gay people icky; or are incapable of admitting they made a mistake, and then correcting it.

CyberDisobedience on Substack | @aravosis | Facebook | Instagram | 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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77 Responses to “AP now lying about policy of not recognizing legal marriages of gays”

  1. SkippyFlipjack says:

    FWIW, attached are a couple examples from the last year of AP articles using “husband” or “wife” in the appropriate manner.

  2. SkippyFlipjack says:

    Transparent homophobia on the part of whom?

  3. SkippyFlipjack says:

    If you want exceptions, look at Costco — a company that puts treating employees decently on par with shareholder dividends in importance.

  4. SkippyFlipjack says:

    “Civil unions” and “domestic partnerships” are similar; I thought they’d be interchangeable for the point of this discussion. Substitute the former for the latter in my previous post if it makes you happy. Sheesh.

  5. Stephen Clark says:

    Abandoning the argument to which I responded and just trumping up yet another argument is the definition of being argumentative. It’s how you have behaved from the start, all the way back to your original claim not to even understand the problem.

    Now you’ve decided to switch terms. The memo doesn’t say “domestic partnerships.” The unmodified term on which you previously seized was “civil unions.” Have fun bobbing and weaving. I’m not playing games with you anymore.

  6. SkippyFlipjack says:

    Read holistically, I believe the memo lumps same-sex couples in with other existing conventions. Your idea that the editors of the AP Stylebook (or whatever position the memo-writers hold) don’t know that domestic partnerships, which have been around for a couple decades, can include hetero couples seems absurd. Sticking to the content of the memo itself, it isn’t an all-inclusive or even official policy — it’s the response to a specific question. They’re not citing the entire stylebook section (if you look at the stylebook, it’s not written in this style), they’re answering a question with a specific answer. The question wasn’t “How do we refer to every manner of legal partnership between pairs of people.” They’re not citing an official rule, they’re saying “we generally refer to them like we do people in other civil unions,” which is the whole issue here because the answer should be “we generally call husbands husbands and wives wives.”

  7. FLL says:

    You’re tipping your hand. You’re saying that the bizarre, impossible-to-verify requirement about the people using “husband” or “wife” on a regular basis is appropriate—in the case of gay people, not straight people. That requirement is a Catch 22 that AP is setting up for same-sex married couples, and you apparently find it amusing. I don’t care how long you’ve been commenting on this board. That’s very transparent homophobia.

  8. Stev84 says:

    Australia does that for gay couples by the way. Not a lot of people seem to know that gay de facto couples there have access to all federal benefits such as health insurance, social security, immigration sponsorship, tax breaks, etc. They thus have more rights than Americans.

  9. Stephen Clark says:

    You’ve offered a precious example of what we call hyper-formalist reading. Read holistically, however, the memo applies only to same-sex couples. The heading says so, the discussion of spousal labels says so, and the reference to marriage says so. The term “civil unions” is unmodified because the author wasn’t even aware that civil unions (or, to be more precise, something akin to them) are sometimes available to opposite-sex couples too.

    At any rate, in falling all over yourself to be argumentative, you have missed my point entirely. It is that there is no justification for setting out to draft a gays-only policy for describing spouses and partners. AP has gotten itself into trouble precisely because it did that and demeaned same-sex marriages in the process. Any policy should apply to same-sex and opposite-sex relationships, whether marriages, partnerships, or whatever–unless, of course, AP wants to subject same-sex relationships to discriminatory rules, as it has done in its memo.

    But, by all means, please trump up an argumentative reason for having separate and discriminatory policies. I recognize that it is your duty as a shill.

  10. SkippyFlipjack says:

    ..except that reporters wouldn’t be ignoring the guideline — that freedom is part of the guideline, which explicitly states that they should use ‘husband’ or ‘wife’ in situations where they know that it’s appropriate (eg, the people involved are using the terms themselves.)

  11. SkippyFlipjack says:


  12. SkippyFlipjack says:

    You might want to refer to the memo again. Here’s the original version:

    ‘SAME-SEX COUPLES: We were asked how to report about same-sex couples who call themselves “husband” and “wife.” Our view is that such terms may be used in AP stories with attribution. Generally AP uses couples or partners to describe people in civil unions or same-sex marriages.’

    Hetero domestic partnerships would fall under civil unions. The memo led with same-sex couples because they were asked for guidance on same-sex couples.

  13. BeccaM says:

    I even remember hearing the term occasionally in news stories way back. “John Smith and his common-law wife, Betty… (etc.)”

    There, the provision seemed to be that all a couple (hetero, of course) had to do was live together long enough and have their finances intertwined and bam, they were married in the eyes of the law.

  14. BeccaM says:

    I know. And initially, it was only the high mucky-mucks who had big ceremonies with all the religious trappings.

    Most of the accounts I saw for regular folks indicated that the families and neighbors would get together, throw a big party, and call it done.

  15. Sweetie says:

    They should use the word heterosexism, but you won’t find that happening because of their agenda.

  16. Sweetie says:

    “John does seem to be overly obsessed with this story.”

    I’m sensing concern.

  17. Stephen Clark says:

    That’s not what I assume, but nice try. How do you interview dead gay couples to ascertain their subjective preference?

    As for “way ridiculous,” please support that characterization with specific examples and explanations.

  18. Sweetie says:

    I’m sure the LDS and RCC are part of this.

  19. SkippyFlipjack says:

    All you can assume from my silence is that I didn’t feel like engaging with you on every single thing you write, whether well-reasoned or way ridiculous.

  20. SkippyFlipjack says:

    Aren’t you the freak who wrote “AP makes the Third Reich look main stream [sic]”?

  21. Stephen Clark says:

    By my quick count, at least five states and DC have or recently have had laws that allow at least some opposite-sex couples or opposite-sex parties (like cohabiting siblings) to register as domestic partners and claim some spousal benefits. Even more commonly, foreign countries allow for heterosexual registrations or de faco partnerships, including Canada and Mexico. A large percentage of French heterosexuals today opt to enter into a form of registered domestic partnership (PACS) instead of a legal marriage.

    How should reporters describe these heterosexual partners? Why is the AP fixating on homosexuality in articulating standards for describing non-marital legal partnerships? More to the point, why is the AP firing off memoranda without even understanding the legal terrain about which it is issuing directives?

  22. caphillprof says:

    Skippy, your reading comprehension is really bad

    Subject: [americablog] Re: AP now lying about policy of not recognizing legal marriages of gays

  23. Stephen Clark says:

    Yes, with reference to the specific couple, I agree. To the extent the issue is the change in military policy, it applies to more than just spouses.

  24. Stephen Clark says:

    Yes, if the writer is talking about a specific gay couple who are receiving the military benefits, and that couple happen to have gotten married somewhere, Canada or wherever, I agree with you that calling them spouses would be absolutely correct. I’m not suggesting that they shouldn’t be called spouses because of DOMA. I don’t agree with that view.

    The problem is that if the writer is talking about another specific gay couple who are also receiving the military benefits, and that gay couple has never gotten married anywhere and never calls themselves spouses, it wouldn’t be accurate to call them spouses–even though they’re eligible for and receiving the military benefits.

    My point is that it sounds like the military benefits are available to partners, some of whom happen to be married but some of whom aren’t. So I think it’s misleading to describe the policy in general as extending benefits to “spouses.” It looks as though the policy goes quite a bit further than that.

  25. karmanot says:

    “The church didn’t get involved until they took over society in general.” And created a perpetual profit center.

  26. karmanot says:

    sister wives

  27. Stephen Clark says:

    If you ask, “Is Fred your husband?,” the gay spouse is most likely going to say yes, even if they regularly use a different word, because it is not clear that the reporter is under a tedious obligation to find out what word the couple regularly uses. By asking the question the way you did, you have the reporter injecting the term and the interviewee compliantly following the reporter’s lead in most cases. Sorry, but the memo requires the reporter to find out what word the couple “regularly uses.” I didn’t write the memo; I’m just applying it.

    If you are suggesting that the memo was quickly written and thus unreliable, you’ve just damned the AP for gross negligence and contradicted your own previous theory that the memo was a produce of negotiated committee deliberation. Which is it? That kind of ad hoc shifting from one position to another suggests that you are just being argumentative. Unclear why you’re so hellbent on defending the indefensible.

    I take it from your silence that you have no response to my other observations about gay couples who cannot be interviewed or references to a large class of gay spouses. You were trying to say the special conditions made no difference in practice. I showed you how they absolutely do.

  28. Stev84 says:

    But that is completely irrelevant when it comes to determining what to call them. Yes, strictly legally they aren’t married in this context. But as far as the terminology is concerned that doesn’t matter one bit. The writer can still call them married and “spouses”. Like “They married in Canada, but the federal government doesn’t recognize that marriage”.

  29. SkippyFlipjack says:

    Well right, because you never agree with anything I say.

  30. SkippyFlipjack says:

    Do you have a link to where the anti-gay AP referred to your friend as something other than a “wife”?

  31. SkippyFlipjack says:

    The reporter is referring to the person’s spouse, not the language of the Pentagon’s benefits or DOMA.

  32. SkippyFlipjack says:

    Where does it say the reporter has to ask them that question directly? (Hint: it doesn’t.) The probably quickly-written memo just says that the people involved need to regularly use the term. A reporter can ascertain this in many ways, including asking them, as I said, their relationship to the other person. I think you’re getting hung up on this thing — it’s not an ironclad rule. It’s not even in their Stylebook.

    But you’re absolutely right, you got me, I’m shilling. The AP has had me on their payroll for ten years, paying me to post here and build up credibility (as if) so I could eventually support them if anything like this ever came up. Now you’ve gone and blown my cover for good.

  33. Stephen Clark says:

    Exactly right. And common law marriage continued to be widely lawful in the U.S. into the early 20th century and is still permitted in a handful of states.

  34. Stephen Clark says:

    Sorry, I may not have been clear. I’m not demanding conditions, restricting the group, or playing games. Let me explain.

    As far as I’ve been able to figure out, the Pentagon policy will give benefits to MORE gay couples than just those who have gotten married, whether in Canada or wherever. The Pentagon’s memo uses the term “domestic partner,” and it sounds as though the Pentagon will be using the kind of criteria–live together, share a bank account, list each other as insurance beneficiaries, etc.–that private-sector employers have been using since the ’90s to decide which gay couples qualify for fringe benefits. That would include just about all the couples who have gotten married, but it would also include a lot of couples who haven’t gotten married. I think the reason the Pentagon has to do it this way is that DOMA prohibits a federal agency from giving any legal effect to the marriages of gay couples, so other criteria have to be used.

    So I was suggesting that by using the word “spouse,” the reporter was, first of all, not accurately reporting the policy and was also suggesting that fewer people will be eligible than appears to me to be the case.

    See this story, which includes a link to the Pannetta memo: http://www.lgbtqnation.com/2013/02/breaking-panetta-extends-benefits-to-same-sex-military-families/

  35. Stev84 says:

    That doesn’t mean that they aren’t spouses. You are playing the exact same game as the AP here. They were married in Canada, yet you demand additional conditions (like federal recognition).

  36. Stev84 says:

    It wasn’t customary or even mandatory for people to get married in front of a priest until the high middle ages. Before that some form of common law marriage was the norm. People had ceremonies in front of their families, but generally if the community considered them married they were. The church didn’t get involved until they took over society in general.

  37. FLL says:

    Some people have suggested that the AP guidelines are not an actual ban because individual reporters are technically free to use the words “husband” or “wife” or even “spouse” if they choose to ignore the AP guidelines. I think this line of reasoning is disingenuous because although the AP has no actual authority over individual reporters, guess who does—the newspapers who employ those reporters. As John correctly pointed out, most newspapers use the AP style guidelines; in other words, most newspapers require the reporters that they employ to follow the AP style guidelines. So really, who’s kidding who? The AP is recommending that newspapers require the reporters they employ to follow AP style guidelines as a condition of their employment, and most newspapers do exactly that. In effect, most newspapers are banning the use of “husband” or “wife” or even “spouse” when referring to same-sex married couples, and they are doing this on the advice of the folks at AP. AP needs to stop falsely claiming that individual reporters are “free” to ignore AP’s guidelines—guidelines which ignore the legal reality in a number of states.

  38. Stephen Clark says:

    Hilariously, the reporter’s use of “spouse” is incorrect. DOMA prevents the military from extending benefits to same-sex spouses. The Pentagon has instead extended the benefits in question to same-sex domestic partners.

  39. John does seem to be overly obsessed with this story. But I read this AP story today, and the reporter uses the word spouse at least twice. So I don’t think AP reporters always follow these style guides anyway.

  40. FuzzyRabbit says:

    My friend recently married in church, in Seattle. The AP will not refer to them as wives, even though their marriage is recognized not just by the state of Washington, but by their church as well.

    However, the AP will call polygamists unmarried wives “wives”, even though those are not legal in any state and not recognized by their church. AP article about Utah bigamist

  41. Stephen Clark says:

    I have fully addressed this desperate effort to save the memo below.

    And I am focusing on the discrimination that pervades the entire memo as well as the discriminatory idea of even having a separate and discriminatory memo for married couples who are gay. AP has articulated no conditions for describing married heterosexual spouses as “husbands” and “wives.” AP required no evidence of “regular usage” or “attribution.”

    The entire memo is grounded in homophobia–a word whose usage I have will use despite the pedantic, inconsistent, and discriminatory scolds at the AP.

  42. Stephen Clark says:

    Now you have have descended even further and are disingenuously trying to erase the discrimination entirely. “Is Fred your husband?” does NOT fulfill the requirements of the memo. The reporter must also ask the absurd question, “And do you regularly refer to your husband Fred as your husband?” If the reporter does not ask that absurd follow-up question, the reporter cannot describe Fred as a husband but must use an attribution: “The man whom Fred identified as his ‘husband.'”

    Of course, you’re also entirely ignoring situations in which the reporter does not or cannot interview the actual spouses, most obviously when they are DEAD. A public record will make clear that they were married. But the journalist is required to conduct a survey of friends and family, asking the absurd question, “What did they regularly call each other?” If there is no definitive answer, the reporter is required to rhetorically divorce the deceased couple and call them “partners.”

    If a reporter is describing gay married couples generically, there is no particular couple to ask. In that event, the reporter is required to describe the class of gay spouses as “partners.” A reporter can neither interview every gay spouse in a state about their preferred term or quote every gay spouse in the state.

    Why you adamantly, stubbornly, and pathetically persist in defending the indefensible is beyond me, except that, as I have said above, you are manifestly an argumentative shill.

  43. FLL says:

    Yes, car dealerships. That sounds typical for local newspapers, hence the unenlightened milieu of advertising sponsors that AP is catering to. Daily newspapers, on the whole, have turned into a rather sleepy corner of American society as compared with the online community.

  44. karmanot says:

    Agree, yes, that is just you.

  45. karmanot says:


  46. BeccaM says:

    What I noticed in that two point guideline is it requires the same-sex couple to assert that they are married and that they are husband & husband or wife & wife, whether explicitly in a quoted reference to each other, or by inference if the journalist has somehow determined that the couple “regularly” uses the terms.

    The result is this allows people reading these AP style guide-compliant articles to conclude, “They say they’re married, but really they’re not.”

    One of the core purposes of marriage as it has been practiced since the dawn of human civilization (I’ll ignore the chattel-ownership part for the moment), is it was a formalized, often ritualized declaration to family and community that these two adults were committing to each other to be a new family. Having clergy bless this new marital union was considered just one of those things people did. Where there was no clergy, people got married anyway.

    Only later on did it happen that religious and later governmental authorities began inserting themselves more and more into saying who could and could not marry, and under what few conditions an existing marriage could be dissolved.

    For us lesbians and gays in America, we seem to be stuck in that earlier era. Regardless what a local or state government might say about the legality of us marrying, and regardless how our own religious leaders (if we have any) might feel about the legitimacy of our marital unions, it is a particular group of conservative fundamentalist religions that get to determine whether our marriages are actually real or merely “marriages.” And they’ve opted of course for the latter. “These gays and lesbians say they’re married, but not really, and in fact we’re offended by their use of the word.”

    This is the position which which AP’s new guidelines have implicitly sided. They’ll graciously allow their reporters to write that a same-sex couple refers to themselves as married, while leaving plenty of room for the anti-gay homophobes (another word AP deleted from their Newspeak dictionary) to read the same passage and conclude that the Associated Press also does not consider these marriages to be legal or real.

  47. nicho says:

    And other places too — not just newspapers.

  48. uess says:

    You can get the AP Style Manual on Amazon. See here: http://tinyurl.com/a8n6x93
    The AP guide is used by most newspapers.

  49. BeccaM says:

    Exactly. Moreover, those publications submit their articles to AP and will use AP-generated content for their papers — and so it’s like the Strunk & White of journalism.

    If the AP makes a specific point to differentiate same-sex marriages versus hetero ones, reserving the terms ‘marriage,’ ‘husband,’ and ‘wife’ to describe only the latter ones, they are making an editorial statement.

  50. Ben L. says:

    Get ’em, John!!! :)

  51. SkippyFlipjack says:

    I agree with this post — the obituary thing is tragic — but your first argument is a bit cutesy. As you’re well aware, “civil union” is a term of art describing legal relationships that are different from those called “marriage”; that’s what the AP is referring to.

  52. SkippyFlipjack says:

    No, I’m saying that the core of the guideline has a problem — if you know a couple is married you should call them married, not “partners” — but that letting the reporter take their cues from the people involved gives enough leeway to set things right. You seem to want to focus on one piece of the memo in isolation, which I get but I think ignores how the overall rule will actually impact AP articles.

    This is kind of like George Carlin’s joke about the new disease discovered which has no symptoms and no known cure. If no examples surface of the AP using misleading language to describe a husband or wife in the past and none appear going forward I don’t know how to judge the significance of the memo or to evaluate the effect of the resulting public pressure on the AP, so I guess I don’t see the point in arguing.

  53. SkippyFlipjack says:

    Do you think reporters don’t ask people about their relationship to others while getting quotes for a story? “Fred saw the UFO before I did.” “Is Fred your husband?” “Yes.” That’s the kind of “special investigation” and “special requirements” you’re talking about — and my example is one that would apply regardless of the sex of those involved.

  54. kevinbgoode says:

    The inconsistency in Associated Press policy is a glaring example of discriminatory practice. Note the ““Generally AP uses couples or partners to describe people in civil unions or same-sex marriages.” ALL marriages are, in fact, legal “civil unions” – there are no marriages which aren’t civil unions. Therefore, AP knows consistency in style would require them to assign the same policy to describing heterosexual “marriages.”

    One wonders how AP chooses to describe legally unmarried couples – is there a difference in the way they describe, for example, people who live together in a relationship but are not legally married? Are straight people referred to as “boyfriend” or “girlfriend” and yet gay people assigned “partner?”

    This reminds me of the way my hometown newspaper used to describe same-sex relationships in obituary notices, circa 1990-ish: “He is survived by a friend with whom he lived.”Of course, at that time, the description would appear at the BOTTOM of the list of surviving “relatives.” Other common descriptions back then were “longtime companion” or “significant other” or “life partner” or just “partner” – and these weren’t usually based on how the couple described themselves but the comfortability level of the individual media.

    One would think after 23 years, an industry which still tries to pretend that it believes in accuracy would make some progress.

  55. SkippyFlipjack says:

    Does the AP distribute their guide to the public? I didn’t think it was available, so I’m not sure that it can be the revered guide (the NY Times does make theirs available but I can’t imagine everyone wants to use their sometimes stilted language.)

    Regardless, I don’t think the n-word analogy is perfect because the AP doesn’t seem to be instituting a new rule but clarifying existing practice. “Generally AP uses ‘n——-‘ to describe people of African-American ancestry.” If the memo said that you’d expect that people would already have been seeing, and getting upset about, that usage, right?

  56. Stephen Clark says:

    Actually, here, the rules make sure that no reporter ever accurately describes a gay spouse as a husband or wife without a special investigation—oh, and that no reporter ever uses the word “homophobia.”

    But I thought it was your new position that reporters are to ignore style directives that are incorrect instead of having AP correct them?

  57. Stephen Clark says:

    Actually, if you check your prior comments, you spent a good amount of time pretending that you didn’t even understand the problem.

    So now you’ve been reduced to saying that the discriminatory directive doesn’t matter as long as it’s ignored by enough reporters. What you’re doing is being a shill.

  58. SkippyFlipjack says:

    This is exactly why news organizations distribute guides on style rules — to make sure no reporter is dumb enough to succumb to this logic.

  59. SkippyFlipjack says:

    lol.. no, I’ve always ‘understood’, not ‘conceded’, that a husband should be called a husband where the writer knows that he’s a husband.

    I like data, and corroborating evidence. I’d like to see an example in which the AP employed this discriminatory, deeply offensive and indefensible practice. Notice that the memo uses the present tense, “the AP uses“, which would seem to indicate that this is a clarification of existing practice, so it shouldn’t be hard to find an example of where they’ve used it previously, right?

  60. nicho says:

    Corporations have one goal and one obligation — to make money for the shareholders. The people in the corporation may be enlightened, but if they do anything that doesn’t increase the bottom line for the next quarter, they will be heave-ho’d. The biggest advertisers in local newspapers are car dealers and they are particularly unenlightened, greedy, and self serving.

  61. I agree that would be interesting, but it wouldn’t be dispositive. If AP issued a style guidance that blacks should now be referred to as the n-word, but a lot of AP reporters didn’t do it, it would still be a problem as AP is the revered style guide, worldwide.

  62. FLL says:

    That offers some hope because everything would depend on which advertisers have the clout. If it’s Chick-fil-A, Walmart or the likes, there’s little hope. If there are companies or corporations with a more enlightened mindset, they could also exert influence on newspapers. One problem might be that it’s the more traditional/conservative companies that still support newspaper advertising, whereas more modern/progressive companies rely more heavily on online or cable television advertising. I’m not sure whether that’s true, but it’s a possibility.

  63. nicho says:

    The AP panders to newspapers. Newspapers pander to advertisers. Advertisers pander to the lowest common denominator. Follow the money.

  64. nicho says:

    And it’s not just the AP. Most newspapers and a lot of other publications use the AP Style Manual — so this has much broader implications.

  65. FLL says:

    I detest the insulting code language that bigots use these days. In this case, when policy makers issue a statement that contradicts their own guidelines—guidelines which they refuse to change—this is code for “go f*ck yourself.” Please point out the obvious: This is an obvious contradiction or lie that is meant as a gratuitous insult. All you can do in response is try to figure out the motivation behind the lie. I’ll second BeccaM’s suggestion from the previous thread about AP’s motivation; I think they’re pandering to fundamentalist Christians, who apparently have some influence over the folks in charge at AP.

  66. caphillprof says:

    I live in a multi-racial neighborhood. I have often heard African-Americans use the “N word” when referring to other African-Americans. Under APs theory regarding the use of “husbands” and “wives” for same sex marriages, AP would then use the “N word” for at least some African-Americans. Just saying.

  67. caphillprof says:

    Call AP headquarters at 212.621.1500 or email [email protected] for general inquiries.

  68. Stephen Clark says:

    We do not know how the memo will be manifested in reality because it was just released earlier this week, but what we do know–which apparently even you now understand and concede–is that the general rule of referring to married gay spouses as unmarried “partners” is discriminatory on its face, deeply offensive, and indefensible.

    That it should be changed seems apparent to most everyone except the AP itself. In the face of continuing evasion and stonewalling by AP, which is exactly what that insulting statement from Colford was, I think multiple posts and updates are perfectly appropriate. If AP would like to bring the controversy to a close, it can do so today by eliminating from its memo a general rule that is discriminatory and indefensible. So far, it has not done so and has, instead, chosen to dissemble. Public pressure is fully warranted. AP can reconvene its “committee” anytime it wants. It certainly did not take days to revise the first leaked version of the memo. The response was nearly instantaneous.

    There is nothing hard to understand about calling a married man a husband and a married woman a wife.

    As for “ban,” the language is perfectly appropriate. The general rule is a ban, and in the absence of the two special conditions for overcoming the ban, the final result is a ban. If AP did not want to be understood as banning the use of spousal terms to describe married gay couples, AP should not have issued a memo that, as a general rule, banned the use of spousal terms to describe married gay couples.

  69. SkippyFlipjack says:

    I’m a guy who’s been posting on this site for a decade and thinks John sometimes blows things out of proportion. “Rhetorical tactics”? You mean like calling this a BAN ON USING THE WORD HUSBAND when the memo says explicitly that reporters can use the word Husband? News organizations are constantly altering their language guidelines in order to reflect changing times and to be consistent, clear and accurate. It’s not easy to do — you’ll see that I asked John to write his own alternative guideline, and you’ll notice that the result was in a “legalese” style and incomplete in terms of describing the variety of legal relationships available to same-sex couples across the country.

    I agree that the AP guideline has a big issue in the middle — defaulting to “partner” when describing someone in a married couple rather than “husband” or wife” — but I don’t think post after post of repetitive rhetoric, absurd analogy and not much actual “reporting” is productive here. How are these guidelines followed? How has the issue manifested itself in reality? What was the previous guideline that they’re clarifying or changing? Was there one?

    Maybe the AP does have an anti-equality agenda; maybe this is indeed evidence of an insidious campaign on the part of a couple of bigots at the top of the organization. Personally I think it’s just the part of a rule-by-committee process that has thus far gotten this one wrong, and I think John’s rhetorical tactics are over the top, sort of misleading and not very productive. But that’s just me.

  70. Stephen Clark says:

    John, in addition to your excellent observations, please consider this other stark implication of the AP guidance:

    What happens when the story isn’t about any specific gay couple but, instead, is about married gay couples generally as a class? Quite often, stories do not focus on an isolated couple but describe cultural or legal developments affecting married gay couples generally in a community, state, or country. In those common situations, a reporter cannot satisfy EITHER of the special conditions for using spousal terms for married gay couples because (1) there is no particular couple to quote and (2) there is no particular couple to “regularly use” any term.

    As written, the AP guidance requires reporters in those common situations to generically describe a collection of married gay couples (inaccurately) as non-spousal “partners,” and as written, the AP guidance gives reporters no way to opt for spousal language. So no story generally reporting on developments affecting married gay couples may ever use spousal terms to describe the lawful spouses generically.

  71. Steve_in_CNJ says:

    I award Paul Colford 4 Sidoti donuts out of 5. Well played.

  72. Stephen Clark says:

    Here is how AP does NOT report on married people who are straight: describing them as “partners” until they say otherwise.

    Congratulations on the relocation and marriage!

  73. Stephen Clark says:

    The only relevant data point is a discriminatory memo which, on its face, imposes special conditions on reporting about married couples only if they are gay. The question is not what reporters have been able to get away with in the past. The question is what the AP is now insisting upon in the future. And what the AP is now insisting upon in the future is starkly discriminatory. There is patently no non-discriminatory interpretation of a rule that states, “Generally AP uses couples or partners to describe people in … same-sex marriages.” The very existence of a separate rule for reporting on people in same-sex marriages, as opposed to people in all marriages, is inherently discriminatory.

    Over the course of John’s blogs on this topic, you have been an apologist for the AP. Why? My agenda is equality. What is yours?

  74. Bj Lincoln says:

    I can see where the confusion is coming from. For one , our relationships offend many who happen to own most of the newspapers in this country and they do not want to see “married” gays.
    Then, the LGBT population has been calling ourselves “married” when in fact we were not. We did after our commitment 7 years ago but it was a lie. It was an easier way to discribe our relationship. In Ohio, there are NO gay relationships by law. In fact when our apartment bulidling was on fire and the red cross came to help we got a blank stare over our relationship and the local paper listed us as roommates.( that stung)
    Now that more and more states offer equal marriage and LGBT folks are getting married, maybe it is time for them to simply ASK. How do they report on straight people?
    My wife and I escaped Ohio to Maryland 5 years ago and got married in DC 3 years back. It is GREAT to say we are married! Now if the federal government would get on the ball……..

  75. Stephen Clark says:

    Good work, John. This new response from Paul Colford does nothing to address the problem and, in fact, is insulting in its evasive reaffirmation of a clearly objectionable policy.

    All Colford says is that reporters “can” use spousal terms for gay spouses. As you correctly point out, that is true, but only as an exception when the usage meets one of the two special conditions. Otherwise, as the memo makes starkly clear, the default rule is that married gay couples are to be rhetorically divorced and referred to using the non-spousal term “partner.”

    Also missing from Colford’s statement is an acknowledgement that the AP is operating under a double standard. Imposing special requirements on the use of spousal language for gay married couples, while imposing absolutely no special requirements on the use of spousal language for straight married couples, is rank discrimination.

    Colford’s evasion, moreover, only further heightens suspicion that what is really going on here is a decision by AP to pander to bigotry. They are militantly clinging to that discriminatory and highly offensive rule of imposing factually inaccurate, non-spousal language on married gay couples in the absence of special conditions.

  76. SkippyFlipjack says:

    At some point are you going to do some research into existing AP stories to see how, in practice, they describe people in same-sex marriages? Some actual data would be helpful here.

  77. rmthunter says:

    I’ve noticed anti-gay bias in AP articles for a while — it’s subtle, but it’s there if you’re attuned to it. This is no real surprise, but it’s idiotic. It’s sort of fun watching them go through these contortions, though.

    What was that about the “liberal media”. . . ?

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