AP stylebook entry recognizes gay marriages. VICTORY!

Hallelujah!  The Associated Press has corrected its incorrect assertion that legally-wed gay couples should generally not be referred to in the same manner as legally-wed straight couples.

About time.  And the right thing to do.

The following entry was added today to the AP Stylebook Online and also will appear in the new print edition and Stylebook Mobile, published in the spring:

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 AP has never had a Stylebook entry on the question of the usage of husband and wife,” said AP Senior Managing Editor for U.S. News Mike Oreskes. “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.”

As you may recall, this issue blew up a week ago when an internal AP memo was leaked to Jim Romenesko indicating that the news organization “generally” uses “partner” for married gay couples, and directing reporters to only use the terms “husband” or “wife” for legally-wed gay people if the reference was in quotes, or if the couple “regularly used” the terms about themselves.  No such rule existed for when to use husband and wife to refer to legally-married straight couples.

AP’s fix, above, is perfect.  It treats all legal marriages the same, which was the most important component we were asking for.  Don’t give us “special rights,” but don’t give us special wrongs either.  There was no valid reason to minimize the legal marriages of gay people you’re either married or you’re not, and in the 9 states and DC where gay couples can wed, the marriages are the exact same thing, straight and gay.

As for the guts of the new guideline, it basically leaves it up to the reporter  – it says husband and wife are aceptable (but not required) if the couple is legally married.  But, feel free to ask them if they prefer to be called partners or spouses.  Perfect.  That respects the couple’s desires, if there any, to be called something else, but at the same time – again – applies the same rule to all legal marriages, straight and gay.

AP reporter David Crary, who last week said, in essence, that he would not follow the new style guide limitation on the use of husband and wife, commented on the new stylebook entry:

“I’m pleased that the AP has added a formal entry in its Stylebook regarding terminology for married couples. After a style guidance memo on the topic was distributed in-house on Feb. 11, it raised concerns among some members of the news staff and became the subject of internal discussions. The resulting Stylebook entry reflects an even-handed approach which many of my colleagues and I have been following and look forward to following in the future.”

Janet Kornblum, a former reporter with USA Today and CNET, explained this morning on AMERICAblog why the AP Stylebook matters:

Words matter.

And in the AP’s case, they matter a lot.

Because the AP makes the rules. The AP is down the line. If the New York Times is the gray flannel suit of journalism, the AP is the plain brown one with patches on the sleeves and sensible shoes.

When an editor wants to let a reporter know that she want a no-frills, just-the-facts-ma’am, story, she tells the reporter “go with the AP lede.”

When a reporter is not sure how to refer to someone, he asks, what’s the style? He’s usually referring to AP Style (although some publications like magazines use the Chicago Manual of Style). I’m old enough to have begun my career banging out my stories on a Royal, and I’ve written for everything from websites to newspapers. I can tell you that the one thing that’s remained constant is this: Follow the style. Know AP Style. Every reporter knows this.

What the AP says, goes. And guess what? This rule will have real repercussions. It probably already has. I don’t think it will affect AP’s excellent gay-issues reporters. But it will affect others.

It means that when the local newspaper writes about a lesbian couple who just got wed, the reporter just might call them partners, rather than wives or spouses—not because the reporter has anything against the couple, but because—yep—the AP said to do it.

Dylan Byers at Politico has more:

The AP came under fire earlier this month over an internal memo advising staff to use “couples” or “partners” when referring to civil unions and same-sex marriages, rather than “husband” and “wife.” “Our view is that such terms may be used in AP content if those involved have regularly used those terms… or in quotes attributed to them,” the memo stated. “Generally AP uses couples or partners to describe people in civil unions or same-sex marriages.”

AmericaBlog editor John Aravosis claimed the AP had “banned” the use of the words — (not quite) — but his chief concern was with the indifference to the distinction between “civil unions” and “same-sex marriages.” His friend Janet Kornblum, a former reporter for USA Today and CNET, later weighed in with a post urging the AP to honor the distinction.

“It’s the last sentence that really puts the nail in the coffin, likening civil unions to same-sex marriages. Isn’t the whole point of marriage that it really is different from civil unions?” Kornblum wrote. “Surely, the AP isn’t saying that spouses shouldn’t be called spouses except in special circumstances. Surely the straightlaced AP wasn’t saying that husbands are not husbands and wives are not wives—unless they are heterosexual.”

The AP was “taking a stand” by “equating legal gay marriages with civil unions and not, well, marriages,” and therefore basically siding with people who are anti-gay marriage,” Kornblum argued.

Tomato, tomahto.  When the AP style guidelines tells you not to use the words husband or wife for legal marriages of gay people, except in the most limited of circumstances, that is a ban as much as “don’t smoke in restaurants except in their outdoor sections” is a smoking ban. In any case, it’s been resolved.

Jennifer Vanasco of the Columbia Journalism Review agrees that it’s the right thing to do:

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.

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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39 Responses to “AP stylebook entry recognizes gay marriages. VICTORY!”

  1. SkippyFlipjack says:

    I’ve been meaning to get back to this, because I don’t want to be misunderstood. I wasn’t trying to discount what you do, at all; I made the mistake of letting disagreement about a single phrase expand into generalities. The original sentiment was: ‘So much for bloggers not being “real journalists.” It was the bloggers who turned this around.’ My issue with this is pretty narrow: I think “real journalists” turn things around, when they do, by digging for the truth and revealing it to the public in ways they can understand. Then the public — the activists, the voters — can work to enact change. I don’t think the goal of “real journalists” is to enact change by direct action.

    Perhaps ‘advocacy’ isn’t the right term, but I think while ‘opinion journalism’ describes Americablog generally, I think it’s insufficient in this case where the topic was covered as a call to arms, one that in conjunction with other sites seems to have turned out to be a very effective one. I’m not sure what to call that besides advocacy journalism (though I’m sure there are much better terms), because the message is “here’s what’s wrong, here’s why, we need to fix it now and here’s how.” The drum was beat at least once a day, even when additional information about the story itself hadn’t come out, because someone had come up with another angle of approach or just because it still needed beatin’.

    Maybe it’s just that Nicho and I have different ideal visions of journalism. Some people want journalists to be activists, exposing bad behavior and working to right wrongs. I think “real journalism” stops shot of that goal, instead just fueling the bad-behavior-fixers with causes and facts. So I don’t think Americablog’s success here is an indictment of “real journalism”, no matter how in fashion it is to criticize the “stenographers” of the MSM.

  2. dcinsider says:

    Nice work John.

  3. FunMe says:

    Just like Stephanie Miller on the radio. Well sort of.

  4. FunMe says:

    YEAH bloggers! They are the new journalists. Good job!

  5. Especially on the right. Their news reporting is opinion and a lie, and their opinion reporting, far too often, is also an intentional lie. The MSM tries, even if they get it wrong, a lot of them try. And our opinion writing, the top folks I know, tends to at least be intellectually honest, whether or not they get everything right. On their side I can’t say the same for the top GOP opinion leaders or politicians for that matter.

  6. JSPA says:

    I was bored enough at the gym to watch bowling (which turned out to be kind of interesting, in an “I never knew” sort of way). I gathered it was some sort of pretty big championship. I was startled, but pleased, when ESPN pointed out the husband (as “husband,” and by name) sitting behind one of the two male finalists. If a sports network is clear on the usage, it seems high time for AP to get it right.

  7. Stephen Clark says:

    You know, there was more to my comment than just the first three sentences. I agree that you won’t find a NYT article headlined “victory” or opening with “hallelujah.” I disagree that you can’t find opinion in NYT “news” articles. John happens to be open about his opinions. “News” reporters are not. Instead, they pretend that they are objective while inserting their opinions more covertly and subtly. I find candor in acknowledging one’s perspective and expressing one’s opinions openly more intellectually honest than the game of creating a false image of objectivity, particularly when it takes the form of the mindless false equivalency of a CNN.

  8. One more thing, while I wasn’t aware of the anecdote you tell, I was aware of the situation more generally, that we tend to be a boutique blog, so to speak, that kick a punch in terms of influence. That’s why sometimes I don’t put up email addresses for folks to write to etc, but rather am writing the story AS the action itself, since I know the right folks are reading. But still, it’s nice to hear :)

  9. Julien, it’s the only way to win, to occasionally fixated on an issue and grab on to it like a dog grabs a bone :) We’ll be back to our regularly scheduled gay in the morning :)

  10. Wow, thank you. I’m sharing that one with the gang :)

  11. This blog has considered civil rights real news for 9 years now and counting :)

  12. It might but we can cross that bridge when we come to it, if it’s there at all.

  13. I hadn’t noticed any critics, so good :)

  14. Mwah :)

  15. Well, it all depends who we want to define “journalism.” I consider this journalism as much as advocacy, not in small part because we’re using words to accomplish it in a journalistic venue. There’s an art to using words well in this area. That doesn’t prove journalism, but it makes it more than simply advocacy in my view, which might simply be putting up signs. Perhaps opinion journalism is a better phrase. I’m not sure myself, but I wouldn’t totally discount that what we do, depending on the post is also in part journalism. Especially since I worked as one, and am bringing those talents to this new creation.

  16. Couldn’t have hurt. They at least recognized that this issue was causing problems and that they needed to take a serious look at it.

  17. Finally, now maybe you can find some real news to report on.

  18. hollywoodstein says:

    Well done John. Meant to share this little bit with you awhile ago, but you already know, but it might be nice to hear. O campaign insider told me Americablog may not get the traffic other sites do ( ouch, Great Orangina Satan), but was considered an kespecially important, opinion leader capable of quickly shaping memes of a debate so it is monitored by them, since they know it is monitored by a lot of reporters, (and some vociferous comments from the comments section, modesty forbids, even made it onto someone big’s desk, even during the maelstrom of the homestretch of the campaign. Not O, but in the brain trust, and led to a rudder correction.)

    So as this gentle reader, and this merry band of misfits in the land of broken toys know only too well, you and your team gots mad skillz. Thank you for using them for good. Of course I asked them why they don’t treat you to some more advertising largesse, but that essentially ended the conversation. I guess when you get the milk for free. At least, until the cow starves to death.
    So it was only tongue in cheek that I proposed you look into getingt some dollars from the gop groping for a way forward. I understand the crickets, dinner with Miss Hollywoodstein would be ” queerer than you could imagine”,( apologies J.B.S. Haldane), but there may be ways to monetize your worth without violating your ethics, and do some good. Also, too, another frank discussion with the powers that be might yield something. You deserve it.
    Which begs the question, why Miis Holly Woodstein feels free to come into your blog and break the china without throwing in a chip. I’ve been rich and I’ve been poor, currently I’m both, due to betrayal and litigation, and I have maxed my other charities, but after making the lurker in Colorado cry out Who Are You?, like in High Plains Drifter, I felt obligated to chip in at least as much as for a bottle of premier cru Vosne from a good year, but never got a reply as to whether there is a bricks and mortar p.o. box to send an identity preserving money order.
    So now it might be down to only a good bottle of cabernet, but I’d still like to throw in a chicken bone.

  19. That’s great, John! Now, might we have a few posts about other LGBT issues ? It has been a bit tiring to read only about this one thing for a while.

  20. kingstonbears says:

    Make it a double and my husband and I will join you.

  21. SkippyFlipjack says:

    “After a style guidance memo on the topic was distributed in-house on Feb. 11, it raised concerns among some members of the news staff and became the subject of internal discussions.” It’d be interesting to get the inside scoop about how much the outside pressure affected these discussions.

  22. SkippyFlipjack says:

    Right, in support of his advocacy pieces John did some research. Of course I don’t think the posts in this week’s series were “opinion pieces untethered to.. facts”, because that wasn’t the case at all, they were opinion pieces communicating and supported by facts.

  23. Steve_in_CNJ says:

    Let’s try to be clear. “… are entitled to call themselves husband or wife” (Vanasco) was the old rule. The new rule is “…are entitled to be called husband and wife”.

  24. caphillprof says:

    I can’t help but think that Mexico also helped with this one.

  25. Stephen Clark says:

    That’s a false choice. It is both. John was engaged in both investigation and reporting and also advocacy. His posts were not pure opinion pieces untethered to and unconstrained by uncovered facts. Frankly, the dichotomy between news and opinion has always been far more ambiguous than journalists would like to admit.

    Moreover, rigidly giving equal time to two sides and presented them as if they are absolutely equivalent is not itself objectivity and balance; it is a journalistic contrivance that is usually misrepresenting the relative merits of the two positions. It IS a form of advocacy in two ways: (1) by seeking to persuade readers that the reporter is objective and balanced and (2) by leading readers to believe that the weaker side has more of an argument than it does. See, e.g., climate-change deniers.

    Plenty of us have been driven from “news” reporting by the mindless portrayal of everything as having two equally legitimate sides. If news reporters can’t make clear, for example, that climate change-denial has basically no foundation in science, plenty of us would prefer an opinion writer who doesn’t insult our intelligence by presenting both sides as equivalent.

  26. Stephen Clark says:

    Great work, John!!! Congratulations.

    One cautionary note: I’d call it almost perfect and for all the reasons you mentioned. But I wonder if the AP is leaving itself a little leeway in saying the rule applies to “legally recognized” marriages, instead of “legally performed” marriages. Does “recognized” leave a reporter room to say, for example, that a Texas same-sex couples who got married in New York State should not be referred to as husbands or wives because Texas refuses to recognize their marriage?

  27. karmanot says:

    In spite of her Obama infatuation Rachel Maddow has done some first rate reporting over the past few years.

  28. SkippyFlipjack says:

    Plenty of journalists do actually investigate and report, and do actually achieve something close to objectivity. The coverage of the AP “ban” by AmericaBlog is advocacy, not journalism. It’s important, it’s effective, it’s an essential partner to journalism.. but they’re different. If this style of coverage becomes known as “journalism” we’re all f*cked.

  29. S1AMER says:

    Your being fiercer than a junkyard dog is what done this, John. Thanks!

  30. UncleBucky says:

    Real journalists are a dying breed, killed off like so many sharks for their fins. And bloggers are the naturalists who can stop the finning boats and bring back shark journalism again. Watch out GOP/TPers, “Jaws” has your scent, now!

  31. Jay says:

    I wrote a snarky email message to David Minthorn and Tom Kent at the AP this morning accusing them of homophobia (oops, they banned that too). Glad to see they finally made the right decision. Hope all our bitching and moaning nudged them in the right direction.

  32. UncleBucky says:

    It’s husband and husband, wife and wife, husband and wife and wife and husband all the way around!

    I b’lieve I’ll have a martini!

  33. nicho says:

    they’re supposed to investigate and report the news.

    They’re supposed to, but they don’t. They merely reprint what they’re handed from politicians or the police — without any investigation or reporting. None of these investigating reporting “journalists” even mentioned the AP style change.

    And, by the way, you’re working off a rather recent definition of what journalism is, after we’ve entered the era of phony “objectivity” and false equivalency.

  34. BeccaM says:

    I wonder if all those emails yesterday sent to the AP style guide managers had something to do with this, too. Y’know, the ones from all of us lesbian and gay couples asking to be put into AP’s database of people specifying in advance that we ourselves use ‘wife’ and ‘husband’ when referring to our spouses, in keeping with their (now previous, then new) style guide rules.

  35. SkippyFlipjack says:

    Well.. right. Journalists aren’t really supposed to “turn things around”, they’re supposed to investigate and report the news. Then people who want to enact change use that information in their quest to do so. That dynamic worked here — bloggers didn’t do a lot of ‘investigation’ really, but gathered a lot of opinions, focused attention on the issue and ended up getting the guideline changed and formalized.

  36. nicho says:

    So much for bloggers not being “real journalists.” It was the bloggers who turned this around, not the so-called “real journalists,” who are really nothing more than corporatist stenographers.

  37. FLL says:

    The money quote from the AP Senior Managing Editor: “After reviewing existing practice… ” In other words, after reviewing the legal and social reality in 9 U.S. states as well as other English-speaking countries and jurisdictions… Pressure works, again and again. Kudos, John. The commenters who criticized your focus on this issue were wrong. The AP Stylebook has a large influence on written language in the English-speaking world.

  38. Kudos for keeping this on the front burner John!

  39. jomicur says:

    Fantastic news! Congratulations to John, GLAAD and all who have worked on this. And to the whole gay community.

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