After tripping into a bitter debate over gay marriage, The Associated Press is changing the way it refers to men and women in same-sex marriages. Ten days ago, the news agency faced angry criticism from activists after news industry watchdog Jim Romenesko published what he said was an internal AP memo saying that reporters and editors should use "couples or partners to describe people in civil unions or same-sex marriages," referring to them as "husband" or "wife" only when quoting someone using the terms. Now the AP says its updated online Stylebook will say: "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."

Gay-marriage supporters began celebrating immediately. "Hallelujah!" says John Aravosis at America Blog. The Associated Press is correcting its unjustifiable edict that "legally-wed gay couples should generally not be referred to in the same manner as legally-wed straight couples." Now reporters will be able to observe a policy that "respects the couple's desires," allowing them to be described using whatever word they feel describes their relationship. "About time. And the right thing to do."

AP's fix, above, is perfect. It treats all legal marriages the same, which was the most important component we were asking for. Don't give us "special rights," but don't give us special wrongs either. There was no valid reason to minimize the legal marriages of gay people you're either married or you're not, and in the nine states and D.C. where gay couples can wed, the marriages are the exact same thing, straight and gay. [America Blog]

This isn't just a matter of semantics, supporters of the move say. The AP Stylebook is hugely influential, points out Jeff Bercovici at Forbes. As "the usage guide of choice for newsrooms everywhere," he says, it plays a critical role in what Americans consider to be the acceptable way to talk about sensitive social issues.

As one of the world's biggest news organizations, the Associated Press is a bellwether for changes in society. Now, that bellwether is saying that gay men and women in lawful marriages should be described by the same terms as their straight counterparts: "husband" and "wife." [Forbes]

The AP — and all of the media outlets crowing, "Victory!" — aren't taking "a stand for neutrality," says Tim Graham at Newsbusters. They're "rewriting the gender dictionary." Why? They simply "caved" to "overwrought pressure from the usual gay 'anti-defamation' lobbyists."

Some observers say, however, that the AP hasn't really cleared things up at all. "This . . . makes no sense," says James Joyner at Outside the Beltway. "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."

Actually, says Nathaniel Frank at The Los Angeles Times, the AP has cleared up this matter, once and for all. "The brouhaha is a lesson in why language matters in debates over gay rights — equal terms are precisely what we've been fighting for." The original, mind-boggling "decision not to automatically use 'husband' or 'wife' for gay spouses in states where same-sex marriage is legal created the perception that it was taking sides — and the losing side — in a culture war issue." Now the AP has gone on record saying that's not the side it's on, after all.

The states that have legalized same-sex marriage have made their decision to make the one and only "marriage" — not "civil unions" — available to gay couples. And the individuals who have chosen to marry have made their decision to become husbands or wives.

Now AP has made the right decision to reflect this reality in updating its stylebook. [Los Angeles Times]