The leading authority on the English language plans to change the definition of the word ‘marriage’ to keep in line with the passing of the recent same-sex marriage act in England and Wales.
While the definition has not changed yet, language experts who work at the Oxford English Dictionary have said that they are monitoring the word ‘marriage’ as it develops in use over the coming year.
An Oxford University Press spokeswoman said: “We continually monitor the words in our dictionaries, paying particular to those words whose usage is shifting, so yes, this will happen with marriage.”
At the moment, the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) still defines marriage as being a “formal union of a man and a woman, typically as recognised by law, by which they become husband and wife.”
To date, the dictionary has only made small reference to same-sex marriage in an additional note which reads: “(in some jurisdictions) a union between partners of the same sex”.
LGBT rights activists have noted that this secondary reference is discriminatory, saying if any country accepts it by law, it should then be defined on the same level as any opposite sex union.
“We are constantly monitoring usage in this area in order to consider what revisions and updates we may need to make”, the Oxford University Press spokeswoman added.
“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 Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act received its Royal Assent on July 17, after clearing the final stage in Parliament.
In France, the definition of ‘marriage’ already changed before the country passed its own equal marriage legislation.
Instead of defining marriage as between a man and a woman, the French dictionary Larousse changed it to a “solemn act between two same-sex or different-sex persons, who decide to establish a union”.
Other countries with marriage equality, such as Canada, have defined marriage by not mentioning gender altogether. The Canada Space Dictionary describes it as “the state of being a married couple voluntarily joined for life (or until divorce)”.
In the UK parliamentary debates, various MPs against the same-sex marriage act had expressed concerns over redefinition of the word marriage.
Conservative peer Baroness O’Cathain said: “Such a complete rewriting of a fundamental social institution can have only serious and some unpredictable consequences. Many people question whether the government have the moral authority to attempt this redefinition”