Canadian Oxford Dictionary redefines marriage
September 16 2003 11:00 PM ET
The new edition of the Canadian Oxford Dictionary, scheduled to be published next fall, will reflect an updated definition of marriage to include gay and lesbian relationships, the Edmonton Journal reports. The new definition of marriage will read "the legal or religious union of two people," said editor in chief Katherine Barber. "Dictionaries just reflect what the actual reality is," Barber explained. "If a dictionary says a marriage is the union of a man and a woman, that's just describing the fact that has been the case for hundreds of years. But if the law changes or society changes or something happens where the word marriage comes to apply to same-sex unions, we just change the definition."
Barber said she made the change after a ruling by the Ontario court of appeal on June 10, in which the court decided that restricting matrimony to "one man and one woman" violated the dignity of gay couples, and it redefined marriage as "the voluntary union for life of two persons to the exclusion of all others." Until recently the Canadian legal definition of marriage derived from an 1866 court ruling in England, in which Lord Penzance wrote, "I conceive that marriage, as understood in Christendom, may...be defined as the voluntary union for life of one man and one woman, to the exclusion of all others." But the word marriage, when traced back to its Latin origins, does not actually specify a man and a woman. According to the Reverend Walter Skeat's Etymological Dictionary of the English Language, the word marry properly means "to provide with a husband" and derives from the Latin mari, meaning "male." The Latin word for wife, marita, literally means "joined to a male." Barber said the reason some people object to a new definition boils down to homophobia. "They don't want to admit that gay people can have relationships that are just like their ideal heterosexual relationship," she said.