Associated Press: Describe People in Same-Sex Marriages Accurately

The Associated Press is known as a rapid response wire service for breaking news around the globe, but when it comes to the LGBT community, the AP has still not adequately explained a section from an internal memo which states that AP writers "generally" refer to same-sex married couples as "couples" or "partners" instead of "husbands" or "wives."

GLAAD is joining a rising number of writers, journalists and organizations in calling for the AP to take action. GLAAD President Herndon Graddick said:

"The AP needs to quit obfuscating and delaying and must fix its style guidance now so that reporters describe people in same-sex marriages accurately. That the Associated Press has let this issue drag on for a week is completely perplexing. What the hell is going on over on West 33rd Street?"

More than a week has passed since the Associated Press attempted to clarify an internal memo to journalist and media reporter Jim Romenesko on how they choose (and advise their reporters) to refer to a married same-sex couple:

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.

This statement from the "world's oldest and largest newsgathering organization" says it generally refers to married same-sex couples with terms that apply to unmarried couples. This has prompted widespread criticism from the LGBT community. The National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association called this a "double standard." John Aravosis of AMERICAblog questioned: "Is that AP's standard for straight couples too?  Only call straight people husband and wife if the couple calls themselves husband and wife?" Michelangelo Signorile, Editor at Large of HuffPost Gay Voices, said the "AP is taking the side of those who claim that marriages of gay couples performed and legally binding in nine states and the District of Columbia are not legitimate."

Chris Geidner of Buzzfeed highlighted the story of Dr. Mark Bitgood, who has been with his husband for 19 years, and wrote to AP editors to let them know that he indeed refers to his lawfully wedded husband as his "husband" … just in case they are ever interviewed in the future. Other same-sex spouses have written to the AP with their preferred terminology as well.

Without official clarification in the AP Stylebook, many reporters and editors – including those not with the AP - could look to the above paragraph as guidance, and would therefore apply that harmful double-standard to same-sex couples who are married.

We are well past the point of needing clarification to that one section of that internal memo. We need a solution that carries more weight. 

The AP should codify, in the official AP Stylebook, what seems (in practice, if not in that paragraph) to already be its preferred terminology for same-sex married couples. Here are a couple of recent examples of AP getting it right, and GLAAD has never received a complaint about this issue. But that doesn't necessarily mean this double standard hasn't been applied in the past, or that it wouldn't be applied in the future.

Here's the bottom line. If you are a man, and you are married, you are "generally" a husband – regardless of the gender of your spouse. If you are a woman, and you are married, you are "generally" a wife – regardless of the gender of your spouse. Period.

Associated Press knows, better than maybe any other mainstream journalism organization, how married same-sex husbands and wives and their families throughout our entire nation are being continually and increasingly woven into the fabric of America.

It is AP's journalistic responsibility to ensure that these couples and families are accurately portrayed moving forward.

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