AP Stylebook Declares Husband, Wife Gender Neutral

The Associated Press' clear guidelines are unclear.


An odd ruling from the folks at AP:

The following entry was added today to the AP Stylebook Online and also will appear in the new print edition and Stylebook Mobile, published in the spring:

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.

“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.”

This . . . makes no sense.

Certainly, AP and other media outlets need to adjust to the realities of same-sex marriages and civil partnerships. And, given how long “husband” and “wife” have been in the lexicon, there’s no reason they can’t be retained in same-sex relationships.

But AP’s “clear and simple usage” is anything but. It seems to imply that “husband” and “wife” are interchangeable terms when they’re in fact gender-specific. The entry seems to suggest that one of the dudes in a gay marriage is the husband and the other the wife when, in fact, they’re both husbands.

If they’re simply instructing reporters and editors that it’s okay to refer to both partners in a lesbian relationship as wives–which should by now be obvious–one would think they could have conveyed that more clearly.

FILED UNDER: Gender Issues, Media,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Ernieyeball says:

    How about Main Squeeze? That should be clear and simple enough.

  2. Tsar Nicholas says:

    “Spouse” for marriages and “partner” for civil unions would have worked, but alas these people aren’t the sharpest tools in the shed.

    At a certain level this somewhat reminds me of when the liberal media could not figure out how to refer to people who’d been displaced by Katrina. They were so worried about sounding racist, but simultaneously so concerned about pushing their siren song agenda with flowery language, they tied themselves up in verbal knots, rendering themselves semantically paralyzed.

  3. ptfe says:

    JJ, I think you’re mis-reading it. They’re saying that it’s appropriate to use the term husband for the legal spouse of a man OR woman, or wife for the legal spouse of a man OR woman. This is very different from saying that a woman’s spouse is a husband and a man’s spouse is a wife.

    Basically, they’re formalizing that the use of the terms partner and spouse are fine if requested, but the official style for a married couple is to use the terms husband and wife.

  4. ptfe says:

    @ptfe: To clarify: a husband is a male spouse, regardless of the gender of his partner; a wife is a female spouse, regardless of the gender of her partner.

  5. 11B40 says:


    Me, I’m looking forward to when my aunt, even without balls, becomes my uncle.

  6. barbintheboonies says:

    This question makes me ask another, as a wife was I number two in the relationship? Are the gays going to fight over the Alpha position? Maybe we all need a change. Maybe we can say This union of two loves. We should be equals.

  7. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Hmmmm…. I guess I will have to break it to my husband that I am her wife….. I am so confused.

  8. MarkedMan says:

    I read it the way James did and thought ” This is really dumb” but when I noted the lack of outrage I went back and retread a couple of times. I finally decided that it could be read as “a male spouse is a husband, a female spouse is a wife” and that is how it was intended. ‘Maybe I’m just being thick”, I thought, but now that the illustrious Mr. Joyner is in the same boat I’m going to take it as poorly written.

  9. grumpy realist says:

    I vote for poorly written.

  10. Gromitt Gunn says:

    The back story on this is that about a week ago, the AP style manual was updated to state that people in same-sex marriages should only be referred to using the words husband or wife if the there was evidence that the people themselves used those terms for each other, or if it was part of a direct quote. Otherwise, “couple” or “partner” should be used.

    Apparently, the existence of a marriage certificate was not considered evidence.

    GLAAD (Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) and some other groups have been getting on the AP’s case for about a week, and AP was digging in until they finally changed it to the unclear mess that James has quoted.

    http://www.glaad.org/blog/associated-press-describe-people-same-sex-marriages-accurately (work may be considered not work-safe only if your work firewall restricts access to any website off interests to gays and lesbians.)

  11. al-Ameda says:

    Once the kids are grown and out of he house, it turns out that most husbands and wives are gender neutral.

  12. @ptfe: This strikes me as the correct interpretation, but agree that the entry is poorly written, which is problematic for a style guide.

  13. wr says:

    @al-Ameda: Bravo, sir!