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Bisexual Bigamy and the California Defense of Marriage Act: Will Bisexuals Be a Wedge Issue in the March 2000 Election?

by Adam Wills

On Nov. 17, CA Secretary of State Bill Jones announced that the California Defense of Marriage Act (CDOMA) qualified for California's March 2000 ballot. If passed, the initiative would add a provision to the California Family Code to ensure that the state would only recognize marriages between one man and one woman.

CDOMA, officially designated Statute Initiative 819, follows three failed attempts by State Senator William "Pete" Knight (R-Palmdale) to push the issue through the California Assembly and Senate. The March 2000 ballot measure is nearly identical to Knight's defeated Senate Bill 911 in 1996. If the ballot initiative passes, the law will state: "Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California."

Californians for the Defense of Marriage, Knight's Orange County-based political action committee, was recently formed to support CDOMA. Fieldstream and Company, a conservative foundation based in Orange County and supporter of Proposition 209, has been their largest backer with donations totaling $210,000. President Edward G. Atsinger III of Salem Communications Corporation, a Ventura County-based Christian radio corporation, was the second largest contributor with donations and loans of $162,500.

Despite the recent election of a Democratic governor, organized opposition to CDOMA from groups like the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund and the Freedom to Marry Coalition will not be able to count on Gray Davis as an ally. During the last election, Davis sided with his opponent against the recognition of same-sex marriages in California.

Breaking News: Concerted opposition to Knight's DOMA initiative can be found at, sponsored by Californians for Fairness. While the site doesn't mention bisexuality, it is fighting hard against DOMA. You can email them and point out who they're forgetting.

Prior to the passage of the national Defense of Marriage Act, a 1997 General Accounting Office report requested by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Henry J. Hyde found that there are 1,049 federal laws in which marital status is a factor. The categories of the laws which are denied to same-sex couples because their unions are not legally recognized range from Social Security and military benefits programs to crimes and family violence.

Conservatives are well on their way to passing DOMA laws nationwide. 27 states have instituted laws and that number will surely grow within the next two years. Four states, including Hawaii, have some kind of DOMA legislation pending.

Rhode Island is the only state with legislation introduced to support same-sex marriages. All other same-sex challenges to marriage laws have been pursued through the court system.

Supporters of same-sex marriage argue that DOMA laws go against the Full Faith and Credit clause in Article IV of the U.S. Constitution, which says that all states must recognize the legal documents and actions of other states, like marriage or divorce. Without the presence of the national DOMA, if one state were to pass a same-sex marriage law, all states would be required to recognize that state's marriages under the Constitution.

In 1995, former California Congressman Bob Dornan stood on the House floor and railed against bisexuals after reading the July 17 Newsweek cover story. "They all have multiple partners," said Dornan. "It is an assault upon every moral code in this country."

Since the introduction of the national Defense of Marriage Act, the "promiscuous bisexual" stereotype has mutated. Gone are the days when bisexuals were mere swingers looking to satisfy their insatiable appetite for sex. Now bisexuals are seen as being in cahoots with polygamist Mormons. According to conservatives, bisexuals are now closet bigamists with an agenda to change the law to allow marriage to multiple partners.

Linda Bowles, a writer for the Chicago Tribune, was convinced that bi polygamy was on the horizon in a September 1996 column against gay marriage, "What will we say to the bisexual who demands the right to marry the man and woman of his choice?"

Hawaii State Deputy Attorney General Rick Eichor argued that "same-sex marriages would open the door to demands that bigamy, polygamy, and consensual incestuous relationships be licensed as well." The specter of bisexual bigamy has reared its ugly head in numerous courts around the country as the legality of same-sex marriage is being argued.

Senator Knight was quick to link same-sex marriage with bigamy in a Los Angeles Times interview just after CDOMA was qualified for the ballot, "If we change the definition (of marriage), then we take the one man and one woman out of it. If three people get together and decide they want to get married, the courts are going to have a hard time denying that relationship."

Under California Family Code 2201, bigamy/polygamy is already a crime punishable by a fine of up to $10,000 and/or one year in state prison.

Both sides are expecting a tough fight with the approach of the March 2000 election and bisexuals could find themselves in the middle of the debate with little support.

Since bisexuals have started to take on a more porminent and visible role in sexual minority politics, Knight and other conservatives may be tempted to focus on the idea of bisexual bigamy to frighten and mislead California voters into supporting CDOMA. Such a strategy could very well test the ties that hold California bi and gay/lesbian communities together.

For gays and lesbians, the upcoming struggle to defeat CDOMA will have more to do with fighting a discriminatory measure than supporting the rights of same-sex couples or the reputations of individual communities. If the bi community is attacked, organized opposition to CDOMA will not likely take the opportunity to educate the public about bisexuality.

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