- The Washington Times - Monday, May 24, 2004

Now that Massachusetts has legalized same-sex “marriage,” will major dictionaries expand their definitions of the word “marriage” itself?

The answer is simple: They already have.

Advocates of traditional marriage who once relied on dictionary definitions to bolster their case for the preservation of “one man-one woman” marriage might have to cite another authority.

Boston-based Houghton Mifflin, publisher of the American Heritage Dictionary, added a “same sex” clause to its definition of marriage in 2000.

“A union between two persons having the customary but usually not the legal force of marriage,” the addition — or “sub sense” — states.

“But we’ll be altering that in the future to reflect the Massachusetts decision,” editor Joe Pickett said.

“There have been a lot of changes in the defining of family terms in the past 15 years,” Mr. Pickett continued. “A family is not necessarily a ‘nuclear’ family anymore. We’ve also had to re-examine definitions influenced by reproductive technology and accommodate the different possibilities of ‘mother’ and ‘father.’ It’s an interesting time.”

The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) retooled “marriage” in 2001.

“It’s not so much a redefinition, because our definition did not specify marriage had to be between a man and woman in the first place,” said editor Jesse Sheidlower from OED’s New York headquarters.

Indeed, the OED defines marriage as, “The condition of being a husband or wife; the relation between persons married to each other; matrimony.”

But the entry includes a note that explains: “The term is now sometimes used with reference to long-term relationships between partners of the same sex.”

References to same-sex “marriage” also can be found in the Oxford dictionary under the “gay” and “homosexual” entries.

Merriam-Webster — publisher of the nation’s best-selling desk dictionary — expanded its definition of marriage last July, with the publication of Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 11th Edition.

The definition now includes the phrase: “The state of being united to a person of the same sex in a relationship like that of a traditional marriage.”

In previous volumes, the publisher defined marriage as “the state of, or relation between, a man and a woman who have become husband and wife.” This particular passage often has been cited word-for-word in sermons or editorials in favor of traditional marriage in recent years.

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