The city of Somerville, Massachusetts, has passed an ordinance making it one of the first cities in the nation to officially recognize polyamorous relationships. The city no longer limits the number of people included in a partnership.
The change, which was unanimously passed by the city council required only a minor shift in language. Instead of defining a relationship as an “entity formed by two persons,” Somerville now legally defines it as “entity formed by people.”
According to Councilor Lance Davis, chair of the Legislative Matters committee the ordinance was revised to bring requirements for domestic partnerships in line with those of other marriages.
Until last month, Somerville had no domestic partnership ordinance, unlike neighboring cities like Cambridge and Boston. It had become an urgent need with the spread of the coronavirus because residents found themselves unable to access their partners’ health insurance, said Matthew McLaughlin, the City Council’s president. He said expanding access to health care was his pressing concern.
It’s estimated that 4% to 5% of people living in the U.S. are currently participating in polyamorous relationships, or what’s otherwise known as consensual or ethical non-monogamy, a practice in which partners maintain more than one sexual or romantic relationship with each others’ knowledge and consent. For comparison, that means non-monogamy is about as prevalent as the number of Americans who identify as LGBTQ, which is estimated to be about 4.5% of the American population.
It is illegal in all 50 states to be married to more than one person – which is known as polygamy, not polyamory. Polyamorous people who try different kinds of arrangements such as a married couple with steady outside partners run into their own legal problems.
There is no legal framework for polyamorous families to share finances, custody of children or the rights and responsibilities that come with marriage. Likewise, there are no legal protections against people facing discrimination for being in a non-monogamous relationship.
Andy Izenson, senior legal director of Chosen Family Law Center in New York, told the Journal that Somerville’s ordinance is a step in the right direction. “I think it’s pretty amazing – strategies like this are the best chance we have of moving towards a legal understanding of family that’s as comprehensive as it needs to be to serve all families,” Izenson said.