The U.S. Supreme Court will dispense its ruling on marriage — who can do it, why, when, where and how — any day now, perhaps as early as Friday — and if the court trashes centuries of law and tradition in its haste to ratify universal conjugal bliss, the consequences might not be quite as dire as some of the bewitched, bothered and bewildered often fear.
The wedding chapels, even Marryin’ Sam’s in Las Vegas, might not collapse after all under a wave of those eager to get hitched as a matched pair of grays. There aren’t nearly as many prospective same-sex brides and grooms as most Americans, gay and otherwise, think there are. Wedding cakes might theoretically fall under the weight of four hairy legs instead of the customary two, but there aren’t as many hairy legs eager to climb aboard the cake as the bang and clang in the public square suggests.
A new Gallup Poll measuring the ignorance of the average American finds such ignorance considerable, and maybe growing. There are, for example, not nearly as many gays, lesbians, transgendered, bisexuals, queers (as in GLTBQ or whatever) and other dissenters from the prevailing order of nature as a lot of people think. But like it or not (and the pollsters say most of us don’t), we’re learning to adjust to the strange, though sometimes with the assistance of a lawyer.
The latest Gallup findings, based on conversations with 58,000 carefully chosen subjects over the first four months of this year, say the public generally thinks that 23 percent of the population of the United States is of the homosexual persuasion, some gay and some merely cheerful, and this is several times more than the actual 3.8 percent, as measured by Gallup Daily tracking. Gallup’s findings are similar to other findings by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Census Bureau.
We must give the public a break, because most people are more influenced by the noise of the entertainment in the street than by thoughtful and careful consideration of the evidence at hand. Anyone watching television or movies, or even reading a daily newspaper, would think that only 80-year-old men and women — perhaps women in their late 70s — still are willing to marry each other or, if single, submit willingly to the heterosexual intimacies and other delights of the marital chamber. Only the odd, the weird and the unexpected rites of the 3.8 percent of the population can be celebrated without giving offense to the politically correct.
The stability of its estimates, Gallup says, “contrasts with the major shifts in Americans’ attitudes about the morality and legality of gay and lesbian relations in the past two decades.” Public opinion invariably swings to and fro, sometimes sharply, and over time no less fro than to. Nearly 40 percent said a decade ago that such relations were “morally acceptable,” for example, and now 63 percent say they are. A third of Americans favored equality on the wedding cake in 2002, and now 60 percent say they do.
The media is accused of many things, most of them bad, and a lot of them squarely on the mark. Editors and reporters on many newspapers and most Internet news sites were badly trained, if trained at all. The cranky old city editor of legend, intolerant of indifference to the facts and intellectual indolence (though he would never have put it quite that elegant way) and abuse of the language, is long gone to the graveyard, replaced by out-of-work pretenders eager to slop it and forget it. Fact and fiction deserve equal respect in an age when all things are equal.
Misinformation ferociously held is not restricted to sexual persuasion and proclivity. Research demonstrates that Americans generally think a third of the population is black (the correct figure is 13 percent), that 3 of 10 Americans are Hispanic (the correct figure is 15 percent). The more educated guess closer to the mark, but Gallup finds that even those with a postgraduate education put the percentage of gays at 15 percent, four times the actual figure. The young guess farther off the mark than the older, women put the figure higher than men.
None of any of this surprises anyone who pays attention to the culture, where an addiction for entertainment has largely overwhelmed thoughtful consideration of reality. Nearly everyone knows who the Duggars, the Kardashians and Bruce and/or Caitlyn are, but far fewer know who their mayor or congressman might be. Not even 100 percent have heard of Barack Obama. Jefferson could never have guessed how effete his yeomanry might become.
• Wesley Pruden is the editor emeritus of The Washington Times.