In an internal memo obtained by Jim Romenesko, the Associated Press reminded its staff that editorial guidelines reserve the terms "husband" and "wife" for heterosexual unions only, except in certain cases:
"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."
The distinction seems odd, and frankly unnecessary, considering that married gay couples are legally husbands and wives just the same as married straight couples. "Partner" makes sense when a couple, gay or straight, isn't married, but to distinguish a wife from a "wife" is just strange.
But it isn't homophobia (another word the AP won't use) behind the style point, AP Deputy standards editor David Minthorn told New York magazine, it's precision:
"We want to be precise and accurate and neutral in our phrasing."
But as gay marriage gains popularity and becomes legal in more and more states, a wire story with "husband" bracketed in scare quotes will seem anything but neutral.