The caption they ran was, "A widely used image of polyamory
rights represented in a march." (This famous banner did duty in at
least two San Francisco Pride Parades in the mid-2000s; one of
them is seen here. The yellow sign, BTW, got it right.)
By Marc Levy
Cambridge took a step toward formally recognizing polyamorous
relationships on Monday [July 27], advancing legislation in the City
Council that would give domestic partnerships with more than two people
the same legal benefits that married couples have.
City staff are asked to weigh in on the proposed law, including getting
advice from the LGBTQ+ Commission and city solicitor, before it returns at
the next regular council meeting, Sept. 14.
Recognizing poly relationships might seem daring to much of America, where
conventional wisdom has it that no more than 5 percent of the population
takes part in relationships that openly include more than two people. But
Somerville enacted a domestic partnerships ordinance June 29 (“We can’t
always be first,” [Cambridge] vice mayor Alanna Mallon said), and councillors heard
from one resident who said the law didn’t go far enough.
In advancing to a second reading and likely enactment, the order drew
six votes in favor and none against.
Councillor Dennis Carlone wasn’t able to vote, being absent for the latter
part of a nearly six-hour meeting. But two councillors voted “present”
instead of taking a position.
“I’m going to vote present on this because there are some issues I’m not
familiar with. I was hoping to have at some point a committee hearings so
this can be talked about and explained,” councillor Tim Toomey said.
The second vote of “present” came from councillor E. Denise Simmons, whose
term as mayor beginning in 2008 was notable because she was the nation’s
first openly lesbian black mayor. When she married in 2009, her ceremony
was the first same-sex marriage in a traditionally African-American church
in Cambridge. She has been an advocate for LGBTQ+ rights over the years,
as well as for the faith community.
Simmons took, if anything, a harder line on the motion.
“I concur with my colleague, councillor Toomey – I don’t know enough about
it,” Simmons said. “I don’t want to send it to a second reading, because I
don’t have enough information. And we’re just not going anyplace where it
can be vetted. If it’s going right on to the second reading, I will be
But councillor Marc McGovern said the order was in line with the effort
last term to get state permission for a gender-neutral option on birth
certificates, expanding options for transgender and gender non-binary
people who wanted to correct their form, as well as for new parents. It
was proposed by McGovern and co-sponsored by Simmons, as well as by Mallon
and councillor Sumbul Siddiqui, who is now mayor. The city offered a
domestic partnership ordinance, acknowledging non-married couples, in
“This is about an important acknowledgement of the various ways that
people love and show their commitment to one another. And to think about
how we continuously push ourselves to be as inclusive as possible,” said
Siddiqui, author of the Monday order with co-sponsors Mallon, McGovern and
councillor Quinton Zondervan.
The order drew a handful public comments, mainly from people expressing
support for the recognition for their own long-standing poly relationships
– including one with a bit of drama to it. “This is my coming out,” one
“If this policy order is passed, you will be recognizing my marriage of
38 years, and I deeply appreciate it.”
Another commenter wished the order went further.
“I am concerned that these changes are too narrow to achieve what I hope
and believe are the city’s goal of inclusivity,” said a resident who
identified as asexual and aromantic – not experiencing sexual romantic
attraction. “The proposed changes are insufficient to include a
partnership like mine, where my partner lives down the block from my
The law as written also doesn’t accommodate people who have multiple
partners, the speaker said. “For example, someone who has two partners who
are not involved with each other would not be able to enter into a
partnership with each of those individuals. The city should take this
opportunity to more broadly acknowledge the many types of families that
already exists among its residents.”