As it currently stands, the OED’s definition reads: “Noun: The formal union of a man and a woman, typically as recognized by law, by which they become husband and wife.”
Only in a reference does the definition say marriage could also be “(in some jurisdictions) a union between partners of the same sex.”
The new definition will no doubt be similar to that used by the Merriam-Webster dictionary, which defines marriage as: “1): The state of being united to a person of the opposite sex as husband or wife in a consensual and contractual relationship recognized by law. 2): The state of being united to a person of the same sex in a relationship like that of a traditional marriage”.
The OED will change its definition due to the Same Sex Couples Act, first introduced to parliament in the January of this year, and which received Royal Assent on Wednesday 17 July. This recent legislation legalised same-sex marriage in England and Wales. As such, the meaning of the word ‘marriage’ has altered somewhat.
A press spokeswoman for Oxford University said, “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.”
Matthew Wigens, former LGBTQ representative for St. Catherine’s College, told Cherwell, “Although some people may consider this some substantive development, it really isn’t. They [the OED] have merely reflected a change on the law where it would be inaccurate not to.
“This in mind, the change of definition by the OED shouldn’t spark new debate. The time for debate was before the Marriage (Same-sex Couples) Bill was signed into law. Only if the bill seriously misrepresented public opinion to the point that repeal would be on the table would this be a time for debate.
“I am pleased to see that the OED have been quick to respond to the change in definition, but it is to be expected of the prestigious dictionary.”