A little over a week ago, the AP decreed that references to married same-sex couples should refer to each person as the other’s “partner” rather than “husband” or “wife”:
“Media blogger Jim Romenesko today published an internal AP memo saying that “husband” or “wife,” in reference to same-sex couples, “may be used in AP stories with attribution,” adding, “Generally AP uses couples or partners to describe people in civil unions or same-sex marriages.” Quickly, an AP spokesman sent Romenesko a revised memo with somewhat more restrictive guidelines, saying, “Such terms may be used in AP content if those involved have regularly used those terms… or in quotes attributed to them.”
The announcement immediately sparked some controversy and concern, including this spot-on criticism from Gawker’s Robert Kessler:
This particular style choice makes a jarring “separate but equal” standard for married couples. As we learned with segregation, a separate standard is inherently unequal.
But yesterday, the AP announced an addition to its online stylebook that reverses this decision. The new entry reads:
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.
It’s very possible that AP reconsidered its initial decision after the backlash against the “partners” argument. Regardless, it’s clear that the news organization has realized it must change with the times, even if that change is unprecedented:
“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.”
The change will also appear in the next print edition of the stylebook. AP is generally the authority on journalistic style and media language use, making this a pretty big deal.