The Merriam-Webster dictionary altered their definition of the term “preference” on Tuesday following a firestorm of criticism over Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s use of the term “sexual preference”.
In Merriam-Webster’s previous definition, the fifth description of “preference” was listed as: “ORIENTATION sense 2b // sexual preference”. Now, immediately on the heels of liberal attacks on Amy Coney Barrett’s use of the phrase “sexual preference”, that fifth description of “preference” now reads: “offensive, see usage paragraph below: ORIENTATION sense 2b // sexual preference”.
Steve Krakauer of The Megyn Kelly Show shared the images of the original definition and the new definition on Twitter:
Many commenters have pointed out that the changing of definitions is a dictionary’s job – indeed, language evolves with time and culture. If a term morphs into something offensive through its use in society, a dictionary ought to reflect that.
When Merriam-Webster was asked to change their definition of the word “racism” earlier this year to include more systemic definitions, editor Alex Chambers said that “our focus will always be on faithfully reflecting the real-world usage of a word, not on promoting any particular viewpoint,” and announced that in that vein, the dictionary would be revising the definition since “omitting any mention of the systemic aspects of racism promotes a certain viewpoint in itself.”
But many others have called this most recent change in definition hypocritical – that it would be changed on the heels of the term being used by a conservative, but that the same term in the mouths of liberals would be ignored.
Just this past May, for instance, Joe Biden used the term “sexual preference” during a virtual campaign meeting:
“I’m going to need you if we win,” Biden told the meeting attendees. “I’m going to need you to help this time rebuild the backbone of this country, the middle class, but this time bring everybody along regardless of color, sexual preference, their backgrounds, whether they have any … Just bring everybody along. We can do this. We can, and I think the country’s ready.” (emphasis mine)
Krakauer followed up his Merriam-Webster tweet with posts about the use of “sexual preference” from the left, noting Obama’s Defense Secretary’s use of the term in 2018, and CNN’s use of the term in a 2016 article on gender fluidity.
Democrat criticism of Barrett has been focused around how she would handle cases like Obergefell v. Hodges, Roe v. Wade, and whether or not she would strike down the Affordable Care Act, with assumptions that she would fall in lock-step with the originalist, conservative interpretations of Justice Scalia.
Senator Feinstein asked during yesterday’s confirmation hearings if Barrett agrees with the late Scalia’s opinion that there is no fundamental right to homosexual marriage in the U.S. Constitution.
Barrett refused to give a direct answer, quoting Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s “no hints, no previews, no forecasts.”
Feinstein objected to her refusal, calling it “a fundamental point” for the LGBTQ community, expressing fear that Barrett would be a consistent vote for the repealing of laws currently protecting the rights of the LGBTQ community.
In the comments that have now been the object of attack from the left, Barrett responded:
“Senator, I have no agenda and I do want to be clear that I have never discriminated on the basis of sexual preference and would never discriminate on the basis of sexual preference. You know, like racism, I think discrimination is abhorrent. On the questions of law, however, I just – because I’m a sitting judge and because you can’t answer questions without going through the judicial process – can’t give answers to those very specific questions.”
Barrett’s use of the term “sexual preference” was questioned by both Senators Mazie Hirono (D – HI) and Cory Booker (D – NJ).
“Not once, but twice, you used the term ‘sexual preference’ to describe those in the LGBTQ community,” Hirono said. “Let me make clear: ‘sexual preference’ is an offensive and outdated term. It is used by anti-LGBTQ activists to suggest that sexual orientation is a choice. It is not.”
Hirono cited her concerns that the LGBTQ community will not be protected with Judge Barrett on the bench, and claimed that if Barrett and Scalia’s opinions prevailed, states would have the authority to jail homosexual couples engaging in sexual intercourse.
Barrett apologized and provided further clarity on her comments each time it was brought up. “I certainly didn’t mean and, you know, would never mean to use a term that would cause any offense in the LBGTQ community. So if I did, I greatly apologize for that.”
And again, when Senator Booker addressed the term, Barrett responded, “In using that word I did not mean to imply that it is not an immutable characteristic or that it’s solely a preference. I fully respect the rights of the LGBTQ community. Obergefell was an important precedent of the court.”