Advocates of redefining marriage to include homosexual couples have taken to using a new statistic that is apparently intended to communicate the growing acceptance of such redefinition. Instead of talking straightforwardly about the number of states which now issue civil marriage licenses to same-sex couples (eighteen as of this writing), they will say something like “XX% of Americans now live in states with same-sex marriage.”

This theme -- clearly designed to maximize the impression that homosexual civil “marriage” is widespread -- took hold after California began issuing such licenses in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision (or non-decision) last June on that state’s marriage amendment, Proposition 8. (The Court declined to rule on the constitutionality of Prop 8, but it let stand a District Court decision which had declared it unconstitutional. Although there remain questions about the legality of their actions, the same state officials who had refused to defend Prop 8 -- thus leading to the non-decision by the Supreme Court -- chose to begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples statewide.)

Since California is the largest state in the country, with its 37 million residents representing twelve percent of the entire U.S. population, its inclusion almost automatically means that the “percentage of the population” living in states that have redefined marriage will be higher than the “percentage of the states” that have done so.

One could, however, just as easily come up with other ways to statistically describe how widespread the acceptance of marriage’s redefinition has become -- ways which would give quite a different impression.

For example, in some states marriage was redefined (or its legal benefits redistributed) by judicial fiat, bypassing normal democratic processes of law-making altogether. Subtracting those would result in a lower percentage figure. In others, it was pushed through legislatures through heavy-handed lobbying, while the people were denied the opportunity to vote on the issue. Subtracting those would result in an even lower percentage. In either of these situations, the mere existence of same-sex “marriages” should not be interpreted as public acceptance of them.

Suppose we look, instead, only at states in which the voters themselves, acting on a referendum at the ballot box, have decided the definition of civil marriage.

There are thirty states where the people have adopted, by referendum, state constitutional amendments to define marriage as the union of one man and one woman. (Two of those states, California and Utah, are currently issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples anyway, but only as a result of federal court decisions.) Fully two thirds of the American public -- 66.7 percent -- live in states where the people have voted for a constitutional one-man-one-woman marriage definition.

On the other hand, in only three states have voters actively endorsed laws to redefine marriage at the ballot box -- Maine, Maryland, and Washington (all in November 2012). Combined, these three states represent only 4.5 percent of the American population.

Obviously, this is a selective use of statistics (I would not deny that more than 4.5% of Americans now think same-sex couples should be allowed to get marriage licenses). But the “mainstream” media is often guilty of the selective use of statistics, too -- for example, in ignoring polls that show most Americans oppose changing the definition of marriage.

Yet I doubt that the media will ever report that almost fifteen times as many people live in states where voters have endorsed a one-man-one-woman marriage definition as live in states where voters have endorsed changing that definition.