Hours after Judge Amy Coney Barrett was criticized by a Senate Democrat for using the term “sexual preference” during her Tuesday Supreme Court confirmation hearing, Merriam-Webster dictionary declared that the word “preference” is “offensive” when used in relation to someone’s sexual orientation.
When questioned by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) about Supreme Court precedent regarding LGBTQ rights, Barrett said she had “never discriminated on the basis of sexual preference” and would not discriminate base on that in the future.
Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) later took issue with Barrett’s usage of the phrase, saying that Barrett, a mother of seven and devoted Catholic, would overturn the Supreme Court ruling that legalized gay marriage.
“Let me make clear, ’sexual preference' is an offensive and outdated term,” said Hirono. “It is used by the anti-LGBTQ activists to suggest that sexual orientation is a choice. It is not. Sexual orientation is a key part of a person’s identity.”
“If it is your view that sexual orientation is merely a ‘preference,’ as you noted, then the LGBTQ community should be rightly concerned whether you will uphold their constitutional right to marry.” she added.
Barrett nonetheless apologized for using the phrase, telling Hirono that she “certainly didn’t mean and would never mean to use a term that would cause any offense to the LGBTQ community.”
Shortly after the exchange in Senate Judiciary Committee, Merriam-Webster on its website altered the entry of “preference” to note that that the term “sexual preference” is, as the Democratic senator claimed, “offensive.”
“The term preference as used to refer to sexual orientation is widely considered offensive,” the online English dictionary states, “in its implied suggestion that a person can choose who they are sexually or romantically attracted to.”
“We released the update for sexual preference when we noticed that the entries for preference and sexual preference were being consulted in connection with the SCOTUS hearings,” Sokolowski said. “A revision made in response to an entry’s increased attention differs only in celerity—as always, all revisions reflect evidence of use.”
This is not the first time Merriam-Webster decided to alter the definition of words in favor of political and social activism. In June, the dictionary added the concept of “systemic racism” to its entry of “racism” amid a nationwide outcry over the death of George Floyd. Last year, another definition of the pronoun “they” was included to reflect its use by those who identify as neither male nor female.