Within hours of Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett using the term “sexual preference” during her second day of confirmation hearings, American dictionary company Merriam-Webster updated its listing to deem the term “offensive.”
On Tuesday, Democratic Sens. Mazie Hirono and Cory Booker scolded Judge Barrett for twice using the term “sexual preference” while discussing Justice Antonin Scalia’s dissent of the 2015 landmark Obergefell v. Hodges case, which legalized same-sex marriage.
“Let me make clear, ‘sexual preference’ is an offensive and outdated term,” Mrs. Hirono told the judge. “It is used by the anti-LGBTQ activists to suggest that sexual orientation is a choice. It is not.”
Later in the hearing, Mr. Booker told the judge, “You understand about that immutable characteristic — that in other words, that one’s sexuality is not a preference.”
Judge Barrett apologized for using the term during both exchanges, saying she meant no offense to the LGBTQ community.
The controversy sparked a firestorm on social media, and users were quick to point out that many prominent Democrats, including presidential nominee Joseph R. Biden and the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, have used the term in the recent past.
Merriam-Webster responded by updating its definition of “preference” on its website to include the term “sexual preference” and distinguish it as “offensive.”
“Usage of preference,” the entry now states. “The term preference as used to refer to sexual orientation is widely considered offensive in its implied suggestion that a person can choose who they are sexually or romantically attracted to.”
Peter Sokolowski, the dictionary’s editor at large, said in a statement: “From time to time, we release one or some of these scheduled changes early when a word or set of words is getting extra attention, and it would seem timely to share that update.
“In this case, 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,” he said. “A revision made in response to an entry’s increased attention differs only in celerity — as always, all revisions reflect evidence of use.”