From Jim Gilliam's blog archives
Changing the definition of marriage

November 17, 2006 3:30 PM

Three years ago, I did a post on 'the definition of marriage.' It's been on the first page of google results ever since, so it has garnered a lot of attention over the years.

I just got an email from someone noting that Merriam-Webster's definition has now changed.

Back in 2003 it said "a. the state of being married b : the mutual relation of husband and wife : WEDLOCK c : the institution whereby men and women are joined in a special kind of social and legal dependence for the purpose of founding and maintaining a family."

So specifically man and woman.

Today it says: "a (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 <same-sex marriage> b : the mutual relation of married persons : WEDLOCK c : the institution whereby individuals are joined in a marriage"

So there you have it. I wonder who makes these decisions?

More from the archive in Civil Liberties.

Changing the definition of marriage (11.17.2006)

Next Entry: Jim Cramer goes bearish on Wal-Mart (11.21.2006)
Previous Entry: Fox News Internal Memo (11.14.2006)

Read the 10 comments.


The dictionary does not specify usage; it simply documents it. It's up to the parties involved in an exchange to decide whether their conversation must draw from specific sources.

Definition a(2) appears to provide the searcher with a definition for the word when encountered in phrases like "same-sex marriage." Without this definition, "same-sex marriage" would be defined as "an opposite sex union between two people of the same sex." With the definition, it's defined as "a marriage-like union between two people of the same sex."

No doubt there are people who will seize on this as proof of some sort of evolution of the institution defined in a(1). But that doesn't happen until you either remove the opposite-sex requirement from a(1), or the reference to a(1) -- "traditional marriage" -- that appears in a(2).

Fri Nov 17 2006 5:30 PM


After reading through a good load of the comments left on your original entry about the definition of marriage (and boy, are there a lot), I do have to say that the word "marriage" is rather religion-based and that "civil union" would be a more "politically-correct" term to describe all "marriages." Though the fact that same-sex unions do not reap the same benefits as a traditional union still saddens me so.

That, and people are horribly hung over the definition of a word and not the emotions that define it.

Fri Nov 17 2006 7:09 PM

Dave E.:

The word "marriage" is spilled across a wide-array of statutes all over the country, so there are loads of legal implications.

Civil unions carry Constitutional issues, so no matter where this debate goes, SCOTUS resolution becomes inevitable.

Loving v. Virginia (miscegination statutes prohibiting interracial marriage held unconstitutinoal) is probably the most analogous SCOTUS case to same-sex marriage.

Really, the legal issue has already essentially been resolved: prohibiting same-sex marriage is unconstitutional. Anybody that studies the law generally understands this. The question is more an issue of social will, and when it will be socially acceptable to give homosexual couples equal protection under the law.

Fri Nov 17 2006 8:04 PM


"and when it will be socially acceptable to give homosexual couples equal protection under the law" - And they don’t have that now?!!? I know for a fact that bias crimes carry hasher penalties then “regular” crimes, where cant they go, what cant they do, they don’t have special bathrooms just for them (separate but equal), compared to their peers in the same jobs they don’t make any less money, they can even adopt no one needs to know (and I don’t think adoption agencies care) they’re gay to do it and its ALREADY ILLEGAL to discriminate against them in the work place and housing we heterosexuals (or at least I) have never wanted to “redefine” them yet they seek to redefine one of the strongest (if not THE strongest) pillar of American society, where will it stop!

How long will it be before the definition changes again to include: animals, inanimate objects (cars, statues), or children (specifically minors)?!?
If this continues, how long will it be before marriage means nothing (there is no set definition)? If this IS the case, why not do away with “marriage” entirely!

Marriage is a RELIGIOUS rite to bring forth children into that union. I don’t see why government is getting involved (except for tax purposes which I do not agree with).
I don’t hear anybody yelling at the top of their lungs about separation of church & state to include this issue, you’ re all for the government invoking a different standard because you cant meet the one already set by this society.

With the SCOTUS populated the way it is to include a former ACLU lawyer – same sex marriage has a better then average chance of making it thru.

I (for what it’s worth) will not recognize it and I’ll tell them to there faces they’re NOT married!

LET ME STATE THIS AGAIN they should have the ability to care for each, other legally make decisions for one another when it comes to hospitals and the like, again the radical elements in our society seek to legitimize their way of life to the majority in this country.

Sat Nov 18 2006 10:59 AM


"I (for what it’s worth) will not recognize it and I’ll tell them to there faces they’re NOT married!"

The only purpose of that would be to satisfy your own personal beliefs, which actually you don't even need to "prove." Tolerance is a much harder thing to do than tell someone their union is not valid.

"How long will it be before the definition changes again to include: animals, inanimate objects (cars, statues), or children (specifically minors)?!?"

... and I never found why this argument is truly valid. It ALWAYS comes up, but the more its used the less I see a point to it, so could someone explain this thoroughly? I might've missed the validity of this line in the old entry while I was reading comments there.

Sat Nov 18 2006 2:56 PM


NJ G –
Homosexual couples don’t have equal protection under the law. Precisely the things you list at the end of your post: legally make decisions for each other, inherit property and assets automatically upon the death of the partner, being able to provide medical insurance for the partner, tax breaks for married couples, etc. So, you are contradicting yourself, while also making the point of why homosexuals want the right to marry.

As for your statement of marriage being the strongest pillar of American society, um… have you noticed the 50% divorce rate? Have you noticed people like Brit and K-Fed honoring their sacred vows? Have you noticed the drive-thru chapels in Vegas? Have you noticed rich men dumping their first wives for their arm-candy trophy wives (Donald Trump)? Heterosexuals have already damaged that pillar.

As for your argument: “How long will it be before the definition changes again to include: animals, inanimate objects (cars, statues), or children (specifically minors)?!?” Both parties have to agree to the marriage (at least in the U.S.), so animals can’t consent, inanimate objects can’t consent, and children cannot legally give their consent.

As for your argument that: “Marriage is a RELIGIOUS rite to bring forth children into that union. “ Not in this country (USA). You can get married by a judge, ship captain, person who answered an ad in the back of Rolling Stone, etc., it is not just a religious rite. By your definition, would you ban a heterosexual couple from getting married if one of them is medically unable to have children? Or if the couple has no intention of having children?

Actually I do agree with you that the government should get out of “marriage”. I believe that the government should certify the civil, legal, financial union. Then if the couple wants the religious aspect they can get “married” in their religion of choice. If the two aspects were separated, both heterosexual and homosexual couples could have the government union and all the related tax, legal, insurance, etc benefits.

Mon Nov 20 2006 1:46 PM


"The dictionary does not specify usage; it simply documents it."

This is correct. If there are sufficient sources to indicate a common usage of the word "marriage" for same-sex unions which look like traditional marriage, then (voila!) the dictionary will include that definition.

The english language is a truly democratic institution -- unlike French ;) . I love this!! We all get a vote.

I vote that marriage is a binding commitment between two people who are intimate with one another.

Wed Nov 22 2006 2:50 AM

Tom from Madison:

Gays have been getting married in some churches for years. Specifically, some Episcopal and Unitarian churches have performed gay weddings. The "ban" on gay marriage is really only a ban on the government recognition of the relationship and associated rights.

Wed Nov 22 2006 6:23 PM


Gay people should marry it is just and right!

Wed May 30 2007 8:04 AM


It's funny how the government wants to say you can't have prayer in schools because it is religious, but yet at the same time, ask you to "Swear" on a Bible in court, and also to "ban" or make illegal something (gay marriage) simply based on a religious standpoint. The whole point of the government is to bring unity, not to create conflict and seperation. All it does is contradict ALL the reasons this country was established in the first place... TO ESCAPE RELIGIOUS PERSUCUTION.

Fri Jun 8 2007 9:18 AM

Jim Gilliam
Jim Gilliam


Add to My Yahoo!

Last week's soundtrack:

jgilliam's Weekly Artists Chart