The National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association (NLGJA) is made up of working journalists and media professionals. We are not an advocacy group. Our mission is to ensure fair and accurate coverage of issues that affect the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) communities.
The U.S. Supreme Court released its decision Friday on whether a state may refuse to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples or to recognize these marriages from other jurisdictions. In anticipation of the decision, many in LGBT communities across the country are holding rallies, marches and vigils.
The National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association would like to remind journalists, bloggers, columnists and media analysts of the important role they play in giving citizens the complete, accurate information needed to understand the full impact these cases will have in their communities.
NLGJA offers these guidelines:
- First and foremost, report what the court actually decides. The language they choose, and the context in which it is released, will be the basis for any legal arguments going forward.
- Proper framing of stories is essential when considering potential sourcing. Many opinions may be individually valid, but less appropriate when played against one another. Legal and theological expertise should be differentiated.
- Journalists should consider diversity of opinion when bringing these stories to readers, viewers and listeners. Look beyond preconceived ideas regarding “pro” and “con” sides. Not all LGBT community members are in favor of marriage for same-sex couples; not all members of communities of faith are opposed.
- Reporters should note the differences between marriage law and the legal designation of civil unions. Civil unions are presumed to extend many marriage benefits and protections; however, they do not include the federal protections and benefits available to married couples.
As NLGJA has previously noted, the oft-used term “gay marriage” is both inaccurate and misleading. “Gay marriage” implies the creation of a new set of legal standards and guidelines as opposed to what is being sought by most advocates – the extension of currently existing benefits and responsibilities to include same-sex couples. More appropriate terminology would be “marriage rights for same-sex couples.” Or, in those instances where a briefer description is necessary, “same-sex marriage” as “same-sex” is a more accurate and inclusive description than “gay.” Below are some terms that frequently come up during the discussion of marriage. They are for from NLGJA’s stylebook, available at https://www.nlgja.org/stylebook/.
NLGJA is your partner; we have members in newsrooms big and small across the country. If we can help you navigate this story, please let us know.
Thank you for your time and attention.
The National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association
Here is some information from the NLGJA Stylebook on LGBT Terminology that might be particularly useful:
Advocates for the right to marry seek the legal rights and obligations of marriage, not a variation of it. Often, the most neutral approach is to avoid modifying the word “marriage.” For the times in which a distinction is necessary, “marriage for same-sex couples” is preferred. When there is a need for shorthand, such as in headlines, “same-sex marriage” is preferred because it is more inclusive and accurate than “gay marriage.”
See civil union, commitment ceremony, domestic partner, relationship
Legal status that provides same-sex couples some rights available to married couples in areas such as state taxes, medical decisions and estate planning. Recognized by some states but not the U.S. government.
See commitment ceremony, domestic partner, marriage, relationships
Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA)
The 1996 law signed by President Bill Clinton that limited federal marriage recognition to those between one man and one woman; overturned in part by the 2013 Supreme Court case U.S. v. Windsor. Write out on first reference; may be referred to as DOMA in subsequent references.
Unmarried partners who live together. Domestic partners may be of different sexes or the same sex. They may register in some jurisdictions and receive some of the benefits accorded to married couples. “Domestic partner” and “domestic partnership” are terms typically used in connection with legal and insurance matters.
See partner, relationships
Acceptable term for a male, legally married partner of a man. Ask which term the couple prefers, if possible.
See lover, partner, wife
As a noun, a person attracted to members of the same sex. As an adjective, of or relating to sexual and affectional attraction to a member of the same sex. Use only in medical contexts or in reference to sexual activity.
See gay, lesbian
An inaccurate term sometimes used to describe the lives of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people. Sexual orientation may be part of a broader lifestyle but is not one in and of itself, just as there is no “straight” lifestyle. Avoid.
See sexual orientation, sexual preference
Term preferred by some individuals for a gay, lesbian, bisexual or heterosexual person’s sexual partner. “Girlfriend,” “boyfriend” and “partner” may be acceptable alternatives.
See husband, relationships, wife
A commonly accepted term for a person of any sexual orientation in a romantic relationship.
See husband, lover, relationships, wife
LGBT people use various terms to describe their commitments. Ask the source what term he or she prefers, if possible. If not, “partner” is generally acceptable.
See husband, wife, lover, partner
Innate sexual attraction. Use this term instead of “sexual preference,” which implies a conscious choice.
Politically charged term implying that sexuality is the result of a conscious choice. Avoid or use only in quotations.
See sexual orientation
Politically charged term used by opponents of civil rights for LGBT people. Avoid. “LGBT rights,” “equal rights” or “gay and lesbian rights” are alternatives.
Acceptable term for a female, legally married partner of a woman. Ask which term the subject prefers, if possible.
See husband, lover, partner, relationship