The Associated Press, the world's leading authority on journalistic style, circulated an internal memo Monday afternoon offering guidance to writers, editors, students and public relations specialists on how to correctly talk about same-sex couples. Leaked yesterday, the memo seems to outline a set of rules for gay and lesbian couples that's different from the rules that apply to straight couples.
The memo read as follows:
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.
The problem lies in that third sentence: "Generally AP uses couples or partners to describe people in civil unions or same-sex marriages." In other words, if you're part of a same-sex couple, the Associated Press has taken it upon itself to decide that your relationship to your spouse is not that of a "husband" or a "wife" but that of a "couple" or a "partner."
When journalist Jim Romenesko pressed the AP for clarification, spokesman Paul Colford claimed in an email that the memo was quickly "rewritten and reissued to staff," and that it now read:
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.
Far from addressing the memo's central problem -- that of a linguistic double standard for the discussion of opposite-sex and same-sex marriages -- this so-called "clarification" leaves the third sentence and its "separate but equal" standard intact. So while journalists are still instructed to use "husband" and "wife" by default when referring to the relationship between legally married opposite-sex spouses, they are now to use non-marital terms like "partner" when writing about legally married same-sex spouses except when spouses direct them otherwise.
Why is the Associated Press requiring only same-sex couples to "opt in" to the use of marital terms? For that matter, why does the Associated Press think it has the authority to make what amounts to a judgment call about the legality of same-sex marriages in general? As John Aravosis points out at AMERICAblog, by implementing this double standard, the AP is essentially overruling the nine U.S. states, the District of Columbia and the growing number of countries that have passed laws allowing same-sex couples to legally wed. Does the organization honestly believe those legal marriages aren't real marriages, or that same-sex marriages have a lesser value than opposite-sex marriages? The LGBT media watchdog group GLAAD appears to think so, writing that if the AP memo is taken literally, its final sentence "implies a value judgement on the part of AP -- that same-sex marriages 'generally' need vocabulary that differentiates them from opposite-sex marriages, and that said vocabulary should consist of words that also apply to unmarried couples."
I've got a memo of my own for the Associated Press: Your obligation is to the accurate depiction of facts, not the accommodation of homophobic bigotry. When my husband Michael and I were legally married almost seven years ago, we were married as husband and husband. Thousands of other same-sex couples around the world are married under these same words, or as wife and wife. Describing these relationships in any other way isn't just legally inaccurate; it's offensive and deeply disrespectful. It denigrates the love couples like us share and tells us that our marriages are somehow unworthy of the term, inherently unequal and intrinsically less valuable than those of our straight counterparts. It reinforces the still-powerful cultural taboos surrounding LGBT people and our relationships. It implies that honesty about the nature and definition of our legal marriages is less important than making concessions to the prejudice of others. And it will not be tolerated.
I've said it before, and I'll say it again: Michael is my husband. Get it right.