SAN FRANCISCO – Same-sex marriage might not be recognized in most states, but it is in the dictionary.
Merriam-Webster included a secondary definition of marriage to recognize same-sex relationships several years before gay couples were allowed to tie the knot anywhere in the United States, but the change had gone largely unnoticed until the conservative World Net Daily news site reported it Tuesday.
"One of the nation's most prominent dictionary companies has resolved the argument over whether the term 'marriage' should apply to same-sex duos or be reserved for the institution that has held families together for millennia: by simply writing a new definition," World Net wrote in an online story published Tuesday.
In its Web and print editions, Merriam-Webster defines marriage as "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."
But in a nod to evolving ideas of love and English usage, the Springfield, Mass.-based company in 2003 added a secondary meaning for "marriage" as "the state of being united to a person of the same sex in a relationship like that of a traditional marriage."
Merriam-Webster said in a statement Wednesday that the edited entry merely reflected the frequency with which the term "same-sex marriage" had popped up in print and become part of the general lexicon.
"Its inclusion was a simple matter of providing dictionary users with accurate information about all of the word's current uses," the company said, adding that it was surprised by the recent attention because it was "neither news nor unusual."
"We were one of the last ones among the major dictionary publishers to do this," said Merriam-Webster spokesman Arthur Bicknell.
Boston-based Houghton-Mifflin, publisher of the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, modified its definition of marriage in 2000, adding a fourth example to the entry: "A union between two persons having the customary but usually not the legal force of marriage: a same-sex marriage."
The Oxford English Dictionary this month added in a draft version that the term sometimes refers to "long-term relationships between partners of the same sex." Its editors also have proposed updating the primary sense of the word to mean "the condition of being a husband or wife; the relation between persons married to each other; matrimony."
The dictionary's main entry for marriage, last updated in 1989, reads, "The condition of being a husband or wife; the relation between married persons; spousehood, wedlock."
Only two states in the country legally recognize gay marriage: Connecticut and Massachusetts.