The Associated Press issued a controversial memo today that differentiates the language that should be typically used to describe people in gay marriages from those in straight marriages. “Generally AP uses couples or partners to describe people in civil unions or same-sex marriages,” said the memo from the APs’ Tom Kent and Dave Minthorn. Romenesko has posted the memo here. While it’s acceptable to call two married women “wives” or married men “husbands” in a quote or with attribution, the AP apparently thinks that’s inappropriate otherwise.
This has triggered a (predictable) backlash. For instance, the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association writes that "when two men in a legally recognized marriage call themselves husbands, it makes no sense to me that AP should make a distinction because that marriage is not yet federally recognized."
This is a no-brainer: Wives should be wives and husbands should be husbands.
Here in Seattle, I got a letter from Equal Rights Washington marriage director Josh Friedes, who says, “I’m in shock,” pointing out that the standards of husband or wife should apply equally. “For the AP to use a different standard for same-sex married couples and heterosexual married couples is flagrant discrimination and undermines the legal and social equality we have labored for decades to achieve.”
I've posted Friedes's full letter after the jump.
I’m in shock that the Associated Press would suggest that the standard is to refer to a same-sex spouse as a partner. Certainly any couple has the right to decide for themselves how they wish to describe each other but the standard should be spouse, husband or wife unless specifically noted by the couple or one member of the couple who has been religiously and/or civilly married. For the AP to use a different standard for same-sex married couples and heterosexual married couples is flagrant discrimination and undermines the legal and social equality we have labored for decades to achieve.
Language defines culture and culture defines language so we must guard against the use of language that can be seen as trivializing or making our relationships different or lesser. It is a heterosexist paradigm to suggest that terms husband and wife should be used as a matter of course for different-sex married couples and the term partner should be used for same-sex married couples.
Personally, I often find the term spouse very good to use. It is such a great word and works particularly well for couples where one or both are gender nonconforming or who dislike gender specific terms but want their marital relationship acknowledged.
I think the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association offers some general good advice when it talks about relationships, with the caveat that, today, terms, husband, wife, and spouse should be used when it is known a couple is legally or religiously married:
Lesbian, gay and bisexual people use various terms to describe their commitments. Ask the individual what term he or she prefers, if possible. If not, "partner" is generally acceptable. See husband, lover, partner, partner.
Asking what language a couple wishes to use is particularly important for couples in domestic partnerships or civil unions since many would legally marry if the option were available in the state where they live.