Polyamory in the News!
. . . by Alan M.

September 15, 2020

Cambridge delays action on nation's second domestic poly-partnership law

Cambridge City Hall
Polyamory activists nationwide hoped that last night's meeting of the Cambridge, Massachusetts, City Council would expand the city's domestic partnership law to allow for polyamorous families of three or more adults, as neighboring Somerville did on June 29.

It didn't happen. But that may be a good sign, not a bad one. 

At 1:10 in the morning, more than seven hours into a contentious City Council meeting with an overloaded agenda, Cambridge Mayor Sumbul Siddiqui postponed consideration of the multiple-domestic-partnership ordinance until next week or later. She explained that the city lawyer did not yet have materials ready, and that recommendations for changes to the proposed ordinance may come from the city's LGBTQ+ Commission and other interested parties.

Those changes may include the improvement to the definition of what a qualifying polyamorous partnership can be, making it more realistic for many poly people, that Kimberly Rhoten has proposed and describes below. Rhoten, who holds a law degree, is a local legal activist for poly and LGBTQ+ issues who has been on this since at least June.

The City Council next meets in six days, on September 21. The ordinance may not be finalized and ready for "second reading" and passage by that time (though it's on the meeting's agenda under "unfinished business"). [Update Sept. 22: It was deferred again.] The measure's approval on July 27 to go to second reading, by a Council vote of 6-0 with two abstentions and one absence, suggests that it's very likely to be enacted when it does come up.

But first it needs significant work, says Rhoten, currently a graduate student at Boston University. This is from a post they made to New England Polyamory on September 11:

Polyam/CNM Legislative Update and Information: 

While I hope we can celebrate this step forward for our communities' legal protection, I also hope we can take a moment to be critical of the alarming ways in which the most current draft of Cambridge's legislation [is inadequate]:

– You can only be in ONE domestic partnership with multiple people [as the legislation is currently drafted]. You cannot be in multiple domestic partnerships with multiple individuals. Meaning, if anyone of those individuals dies or is no longer involved with any one other person in that domestic partnership, the whole partnership dissolves and is terminated. There is a "cooling off" period before you can refile, leaving folks without each other's health insurance and/or other benefits during that time. You would then have to refile again for the remaining people. For more information on why this is a legal and bureaucratic nightmare, see analysis by Infinity_8p.

– If you are married, you can only enter into a domestic partnership if your spouse is in that relationship configuration as well.

– If your domestic partnership is in some way legally contested (by insurance companies, your employer, the City itself for example), you must submit evidence of "how you hold your relationship out to the world."...That's right, evidence of how you out your relationship to the world around you.

...Again, heck yes, celebrate the second city caring about polyamorous relationships, but also maybe someday we'll see something better, more representative of the complex relationships our communities have, and more protective of our right to disclose our relationships to the world at our own pace and safety.


– Somerville did an excellent job in wording their ordinance, which allows multiple two-person domestic partnerships as well as all-in ones, depending on what the folks engaging in them actually want.

– Here is the email I sent the LGBTQ+ Commission of Cambridge when they were reviewing the draft:

...2) Issue: The Ordinance's Failure to Provide Appropriate Dyadic Domestic Partnerships

The current ordinance would require that a polyamorous persons be in only one domestic partnership at a time. Though there may be multiple people in that partnership, the ordinance would only permit that one domestic partnership be used to cover all persons involved. This is exceptionally problematic. First, it fails to consider situations in which a polyamorous persons' family does not all consider each other family. For example, consider a polyamorous women, lets call her Miranda, living together for the last 20 years with her two life partners, Bob and Tom. Bob and Tom are not dating nor would they consider each other family yet they both consider Miranda family and Miranda considers each of them family. The current ordinance would not be capable of providing appropriate protection and recognition for Miranda. Note that the ordinance would require that Miranda submit evidence that all three of them operate and consider themselves a three person family, which is not the case. In contrast, a dyadic option (which is exactly what the City of Somerville aptly and correctly provided to the City's polyamorous constituents) would allow Miranda to register her two dyad domestic partnerships: one with Bob and one with Tom.

Why is this a problem (besides of course, not recognizing the structure of Miranda's family)? According to Cambridge's current law (which is unchanged by this new ordinance) Section 2.119.030 Registration and Termination, the death of one person in the domestic partnership would dissolve the entire domestic partnership for all persons in it. For Miranda, Bob and Tom, this would mean that if Tom passes away, Bob and Miranda are now no longer legally partnered. Whereas, by using Somerville's dyadic approach, for the case of Miranda, Bob and Tom, the death of Tom would not destroy the domestic partnership Miranda has with Bob.

This exact issue would also arise if [irreconcilable] differences surface between any person in the domestic partnership and anyone else. If these two individuals decide to terminate the partnership, it would obliterate the rest of the family's legal standing rather than solely the legal standing between these two persons. And, according to Section 2.119.030(E) none of the domestic partners in this former multi-person partnership may file another domestic partnership until six months have elapsed from termination, leaving this family completely unprotected legally for half a year.

The issues with this type of legal recognition for polyamorous persons is well known, documented, and discussed by long time poly activists.

Recommendation: Strike provision 2.119.020(D)(5) from the proposed ordinance.

Rhoten tells me this morning, "The last time the City Council looked at this [July 27] they sought additional comment and guidance from the LGBTQ+ Commission and the city solicitor [city lawyer]. I and a few others commented to the LGBTQ+ Commission, but they haven't really followed up with me. They meet once a month." The commission's next meeting is September 24th. The minutes of its August meeting won't be available until they are approved at the September meeting.

"I hope they have adjusted their language to include a dyadic approach [multiple separate, two-person domestic partnerships] just like Somerville did," says Rhoten. "I think it would be incredibly problematic for municipalities to start passing legislation that doesn't do that."

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