OED to include same sex unions in definition of “marriage”

gay marriageThe Oxford English Dictionary is to change its definition of marriage after a law authorising same-sex weddings passed its final hurdle last month.

Currently, the dictionary includes a reference to same-sex marriage being legal “in some jurisdictions”, but this move is expected to amend the entry itself.

“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,” a spokesperson for Oxford University Press, which publishes the dictionary, told Gay Star News.

“We are constantly monitoring usage in this area in order to consider what revisions and updates we may need to make.”

“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,” she added.

Ashley Francis-Roy, the incoming president of the Oxford University LGBTQ Society, said the OED’s strategy was “important”.

“It can sometimes be quite easy to forget the human presence behind our dictionaries that prevents them from becoming simple documents of language and ensures that they are connected to social and cultural assumptions of a particular time. For example, in the Victorian period the Oxford English Dictionary intentionally omitted every single word to do with contraception,” he said.

“Their current approach of monitoring word usage seems like a much more convincing way of documenting language in an unbiased way. This strategy is important as it seeks to prevent dictionaries from controlling language and actions in a restrictive way. Dictionaries have powerful authority and it could become problematic if their definition of marriage, for example, did not parallel the most common usage.”

Not all reactions were positive. One commenter on the Christian Post article on the topic said the move was an example of twisting “our language usage to accommodate sin”.

Similarly, a Daily Mail commenter said it was “time for me to switch to a different producer of dictionaries”.

Earlier this year, the French dictionary Larousse amended its definition of marriage to a “solemn act between two same-sex or different-sex persons, who decide to establish a union”, a move which caused anger from some right-wing French MPs.

The same-sex marriage movement in Britain was supported by all three main party leaders, but opposed by many church groups and some backbenchers. The first weddings are expected to take place by the summer of 2014.