WASHINGTON — The Associated Press is holding firm against criticism — some of it internal — of a Feb. 11 guidance issued to its reporters and editors that they were to "[g]enerally ... [use] couples or partners to describe people in civil unions or same-sex marriages."
AP spokesman Paul Colford told BuzzFeed Thursday evening, "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."
When covering same-sex couples who have waited decades in some cases for that marriage license, however, the idea that the AP would treat those couples' marriages like civil unions — and not like opposite-sex couples' marriages — has sparked questioning responses from some of AP's own reporters and calls for a change from LGBT organizations and activists.
An initial memo, sent by AP Standards' Tom Kent and Dave Minthorn on Feb. 11, stated that same-sex couples could be referred to as husbands or wives only "with attribution." Jim Romenesko, who posted the memo on Feb. 12, later provided an update from Colford in which the spokesman clarified 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."
Both versions of the guidance concluded with the line, "Generally AP uses couples or partners to describe people in civil unions or same-sex marriages."
The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation and AmericaBlog's John Aravosis immediately criticized the guidance, with one of the AP's own reporters, Lisa Leff, tweeting out Aravosis' story that afternoon.
Although not completely "banned," the guidance states that the words "husband" and "wife" are not "generally" to be used to describe same-sex couples in legal marriages and they are only to be used when "regularly used" by "those involved" or when in quotes.
On Feb. 13, with the AP not changing course, others joined in the criticism. A second AP reporter, David Crary, wrote in an email to Rex Wockner, that Crary said could be made public:
The AP style guidance will have no effect on how I write about legally married same-sex couples. I will continue to depict them on equal terms, linguistically and otherwise, with heterosexual married couples, with no hesitation about using husband and wife in the cases where that's the appropriate term.
The Fake AP Stylebook Twitter account also joined the discussion, tweeting acerbically:
The National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, of which this reporter is a member, also has strongly criticized the guidance, with its president, Jen Christensen, writing Thursday:
Such guidance may be appropriate for referring to people in civil unions, for which there are no established terms and the language is still evolving, but it suggests a double standard for same-sex individuals in legally recognized marriages. One has to assume that AP would never suggest that the default term should be "couples" or "partners" when describing people in opposite-sex marriages. We strongly encourage you to revise the style advisory to make it clear that writers should use the same terms for married individuals, whether they are in a same-sex or opposite-sex marriage.
Asked about the NLGJA's criticism, Colford would only say, "Editors expect to talk with the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, as they have in the past."
Chris Geidner is the legal editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, DC. In 2014, Geidner won the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association award for journalist of the year.
Contact Chris Geidner at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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