The Changing Definition of Marriage

I am on hiatus this week so I thought I’d bring back a few older posts for those who might have missed them the first time around.

The Definition of Marriage is Changing (Not Only Politically But In Some Dictionaries

Merriam Webster Dictionary The other night, I was surfing the web and happened upon the Adjunct Law Prof Blog. As I scrolled through the archive of posts, I spied one that particularly intrigued me: Dictionary Definition of Marriage Has Changed! Indeed, the post acknowledged that Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 11th Ed., has expanded its definition of marriage to include the language, “(2): the state of being united to a person of the same sex in a relationship like that of a traditional marriage”. That news excited me. I was pleased that as same-sex marriage is becoming a reality in more and more places on the globe (including my home State of Connecticut), those who take the time to archive and define the words that make up our language have seen fit to update the definition of “marriage” to a more contemporary one. An Associated Press article posted on declared that, “Same-sex marriage might not be recognized in most states, but it is in the dictionary.”

For whatever reason, I happened to recall those posts earlier tonight and decided to do a bit of online research to determine if other dictionaries had joined Merriam-Webster in expanding their definitions of marriage. This isn’t an exhaustive list – and I will preface this by saying that 1) I did not open a single paper copy of any dictionary in performing this research and 2) I am only going to quote the portion of each definition that is relevant to this post. For what it’s worth, I humbly offer the following results for those inquiring minds that bother to read my posts.

I began my foray into Dictionary Land (a magical place, so be sure to get your souvenir tee shirt) with This site is often used by web-savvy elementary and high school students during the course of their nightly homework. Unfortunately, this web offering hasn’t completely caught up with the laws of those States that have legalized same-sex marriage. Its definition includes this language: “(4) a relationship in which two people have pledged themselves to each other in the manner of a husband and wife, without legal sanction: trial marriage; homosexual marriage.” Perhaps I should send off an e-mail to inform the compilers that “homosexual marriage” is recognized in more than one location on the globe.

The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language partially defines marriage as “1(d): A union between two persons having the customary but usually not the legal force of marriage: a same-sex marriage.” [Source: Yahoo Education, which utilizes the American Heritage Dictionary].

According to Encarta® World English Dictionary, North American Edition, marriage is defined as, “1. legal relationship between spouses: a legally recognized relationship, established by a civil or religious ceremony, between two people who intend to live together as sexual and domestic partners; 2. specific marriage relationship: a married relationship between two people, or a somebody’s relationship with his or her spouse.” That seems accurate, although I am wondering what “a somebody’s relationship” means.

It didn’t come as any surprise (at least to me) that Wiktionary partially defines marriage as, “2. The union of two people, to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life.” I loved that definition.

In, marriage is defined as, “1.a. The legal union of a man and woman as husband and wife, and in some jurisdictions, between two persons of the same sex, usually entailing legal obligations of each person to the other.” [Italics mine].

My limited research also uncovered the fact that the Compact Oxford English Dictionary and the Cambridge International Dictionary of English (which defines “marry” rather than “marriage”) have not expanded their definitions to include or even remotely refer to same-sex marriages in any way. Perhaps Oxford’s definition, “a combination of two or more elements,” refers to same-sex marriage? Okay, that’s a bit of a stretch, even for me.


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copyright 2012 Irene C. Olszewski, Esq.


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