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Queer Talk: AP Decides Same-Sex Marriages Have Husbands and Wives

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The Associated Press had several days of very unhappy feedback and strong demands that it not go the direction of a memo which discouraged use of “husband” and “wife” in reference to same-sex couples. Today they issued a brief release, New entry in the AP Stylebook: husband, wife:

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.’

They’re the only ones who know how this decision was made, but here’s what the memo of a few days ago said, via John Aravosis at AmericaBlogGay, who has covered the story carefully:

‘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.’

That was followed by a clarification, when criticisms and questions quickly appeared. Via Buzzfeed:

AP spokesman Paul Colford told BuzzFeed …, ‘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.’

Seen in the context of the “generally AP uses couples or partners to describe people in civil unions or same-sex marriages” explanation, followed by the clarification which asserts a reaffirmation of “existing practices,” today’s statement is certainly more direct, and I’m guessing, a reflection that maybe this was a light bulb moment for AP.

Aravosis responds to today’s announcement with 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. …

AP’s fix … 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.

At Buzzfeed Chris Geidner writes:

AP Backs Down, Will Treat All Legally Married Couples The Same …

Initially, AP spokesman Paul Colford told BuzzFeed the guidance (discussed in the earlier memo) only ‘reaffirmed AP’s existing practice,’ but activists and LGBT organizations criticized the move as treating same-sex couples’ marriages differently than opposite-sex couples’ marriages.

Before AP’s released statement today, former reporter for USA Today and CNET Janet Kornblum, writing at AmericaBlogGay, did a nice summary of how I think a lot of people reacted, and why the words “husband” and “wife” and “marriage” are important. From her post:

AP, you made a mistake on same-sex marriage. Now correct it.

When I first read about the brouhaha over the Associated Press’ edict over how to refer to lesbian and gay spouses, I thought oh, this is one of those insider stories. It will turn out to be nothing but a big misunderstanding, especially after the AP clarifies it.

But the AP clarified. And it got worse.

The message that the average reader drinking in the news sees is this: oh, this couple? They’re married, but they aren’t really married. They’re just partners. They’re not really equal to heterosexual couples. They’re something else. Something other.

And because the AP is so powerful, that message gets passed along repeatedly — from newspapers to television to blogs to Twitter to Facebook and so on. …

As Kornblum says, “Words matter.” And AP’s guidelines are a very powerful tool in determining which words are used in journalism, and in turn, those “guided” words are very powerful in helping shape the thinking of the public.

Whatever AP’s internal reasoning process, whether they “backed down” or just saw the light, the decision is a welcomed one.

(AP Logo — rainbow added by me — via AP)

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