Oxford Dictionary Definition of Marriage Will Now Include Gay Marriage

Friday, 26 Jul 2013 03:28 PM

By Ken Mandel

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With places around the world redefining traditional marriage by legalizing gay marriage, it makes sense that the Oxford English Dictionary will revise their definition.

The world's most well-known authority on the English language will include gay couples in its definition for future editions, in concert with Queen Elizabeth II’s decision this month to allow same-sex couples to marry in England.

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"We continually monitor the words in our dictionaries, paying particular [attention] to those words whose usage is shifting, so yes, this will happen with marriage," an Oxford University spokesperson told Gay Star News.

Currently, the dictionary defines the word as a "formal union of a man and a woman, typically as recognized by law, by which they become husband and wife,” but the definition also makes a reference to gay marriage, explaining, it could also be "(in some jurisdictions) a union between partners of the same sex."

Activists for gay rights maintain that a reference alone is discriminatory.

The Oxford University Press spokeswoman defended the definition.

"It's worth pointing out that, as the OED is distinct from other dictionaries in being a historical record of the language, meanings of the past will remain, even while language changes and new ones are added," the spokesperson told the Gay Star News.

Larousse, the leading French dictionary, changed its definition to a "solemn act between two same-sex or different-sex persons, who decide to establish a union," while other countries’ definitions avoid gender altogether. The Canada Space Dictionary keeps it ambiguous, describing marriage as "the state of being a married couple voluntarily joined for life (or until divorce)."

Rival dictionaries to OED, like Merriam-Webster, haven't announced plans to alter their definitions.

Attitudes toward the topic have been steadily shifting. In the United States last month, the Supreme Court declared the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional in a 5-4 decision that extended federal benefits to legally married gay couples. The Court also dismissed California's Prop 8 law, which banned gay marriage in the state. 

A group of San Francisco artists calling themselves "HACKmarriage" started visiting bookstores and libraries around the area, placing stickers in dictionaries over the definition that say, "the formal union of two people by which they become partners for life." 

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Related stories:

Gay Marriage Foes Seek to Halt California Same-Sex Weddings

Judge Approves Ohio Men's Out-of-State Same-Sex Marriage


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