March 9, 2021

Cambridge, Mass., becomes 2nd US city to legalize polyamorous domestic partnerships

It's finally happened! And it's likely to be the start of a wave of similar efforts around the United States.

The Cambridge City Council passed its long-awaited multi-domestic partnership ordinance last night. This morning the new Polyamory Legal Advocacy Coalition got the jump on the news media by issuing a press release. The people in PLAC were central to rewriting the original ordinance proposal to include protections for polyamory households that are realistic and solid -- an improvement over neighboring Somerville's multi-domestic partnership ordinance passed last summer.

I've highlighted a couple of points in red, and I asked some interview questions of PLAC's Diana Adams below. 


Cambridge Becomes 2nd US City to Legalize
Polyamorous Domestic Partnerships

March 9, 2021

Cambridge, Massachusetts

On March 8th, 2021, the Cambridge City Council passed a historic domestic partnership ordinance aimed at recognizing and protecting polyamorous and other multi-partner families and relationships. The ordinance was developed with detailed input from the newly formed Polyamory Legal Advocacy Coalition (PLAC), and is the first of what advocates hope will be a wave of legal recognition for polyamorous families and relationships in 2021.

Non-nuclear and multi-partner families are on the rise, and the law is finally catching up. An estimated 11% of people in the United States have engaged in a polyamorous relationship at some point during their life, but due to severe stigma and fear of discrimination, they often do not share their relationship status with family, friends, or co-workers. In July 2020, Somerville, MA became the first city to allow domestic partnerships of three or more partners. Since then, other progressive American cities, including Cambridge, have seen community-driven demand for similar ordinances. To support this momentum, the Chosen Family Law Center and Harvard Law School LGBTQ+ Advocacy Clinic teamed up with members of the American Psychological Association’s Division 44 Committee on Consensual Non-Monogamy to create PLAC. PLAC advocates hope that the new ordinance, which makes Cambridge only the second city in the nation to recognize multi-partner domestic partnerships, will inspire other municipalities to pass similar ordinances. PLAC has drafted sample legislation to assist cities in establishing their own multi-partner domestic partnership ordinances, as well as non-discrimination ordinances to protect polyamorous families and individuals.

“Non-nuclear families—such as single parents supported by relatives, step-families, open adoption families, multi-generational families, multi-parent families, and polyamorous families—have changed the landscape of American society, and yet, many of these diverse family structures are not protected or recognized by the law,” said Alexander Chen, Founding Director of the Harvard Law School LGBTQ+ Advocacy Clinic. A 2015 Pew Research Study shows that less than half of U.S. children below age 18 live in a family with two married parents in their first marriage. That means that many children live in families that do not enjoy the same recognition, rights, and protections as in the past.

Diana Adams, Executive Director of the Chosen Family Law Center, added: “The lack of legal protection makes non-nuclear families especially vulnerable to stigma and discrimination in employment, health care, housing, and social life. I have represented hundreds of clients who have been discriminated against because they’re polyamorous, whether that meant being unable to visit their life partner in the hospital, losing child custody in court battles, or losing their job. Legal recognition of these families reduces social stigma and provides families with the stability we all deserve. While non-nuclear families remain at risk, Cambridge’s ordinance will help confer both tangible benefits and symbolic recognition that we hope will inspire other cities to pass similar ordinances.”

“A review of case law reveals an all-too-common pattern among family law judges: they tend to discriminate against polyamorous parents. Many judges conclude, without supporting evidence, that people who engage in polyamory are less moral, less stable, and less capable of caring for their children compared to monogamous people.” Kimberly Rhoten, Legal Issues Co-Chair of the APA Division 44 Committee on Consensual Non-Monogamy, begs to differ: “Multi-parent families, including polyamorous families, can provide increased emotional, financial, practical, and logistical support for children—such as additional adults to help with homework, childrearing, or household chores. Further, because polyamorous relationships tend to require open and honest communication, polyamorous families typically foster emotional intimacy and communication skills in their children. This trend is reminiscent of historical discrimination against other groups (such as same-sex couples and interracial families) whose fitness to raise children was questioned based wholly on judge’s biases against their relationships as opposed to concrete evidence of their parenting.” Dr. Heath Schechinger, Ph.D., Founding Co-Chair of the APA Division 44 Committee on Consensual Non-Monogamy, agrees: “Research suggests not only that people in consensually non-monogamous relationships experience similar levels of relationship satisfaction, trust, commitment, and psychological health as those in monogamous relationships, but also that consensually non-monogamous relationships are especially conducive to fulfilling diversified needs and promoting individual growth.”

Press Contacts:
Polyamory Legal Advocacy Coalition (PLAC)

Diana Adams, Esq.
Executive Director, Chosen Family Law Center, Inc.

Alexander Chen, Esq.
Founding Director, Harvard Law School LGBTQ+ Advocacy Clinic  


I asked Adams a few questions, and here are her replies. (Disclosure: I've hired Adams as an attorney in an unrelated legal matter.)

    What's next for PLAC?  

We drafted model ordinances for both multi-partner domestic partnership and the first non-discrimination protections for polyamorous people and others in non-nuclear families, so that you couldn't be discriminated against in employment or housing. We hope to pass these at a City Council level in several progressive small cities across the US in 2021, and with our legal expert team, adapt the model ordinances to the needs of the particular city. If anyone is willing to work with us on getting this passed in their city, please get in touch with us and we will help you.

    How did PLAC come about?

After Somerville passed multi-partner domestic partnership, we realized that other community-driven ordinances might be proposed elsewhere, without the benefit of attorney drafting support to make sure the ordinances were as useful for families as possible. As Executive Director of Chosen Family Law Center, I partnered with my colleague Alex Chen, Director of the LGBTQ+ Advocacy Clinic at Harvard Law School on the project, and we brought in a team of lawyers and mental health professionals in support, and PLAC was created.

    Is this is a volunteer effort? Is there a significant source of funding?

This is an entirely volunteer effort with no funding. Donations to my legal services nonprofit Chosen Family Law Center can be earmarked for the Poly Families Project, which funds our time for involvement in PLAC work.

    Is PLAC seeking additional members? What qualifications are you looking for?

We welcome community members who are interested to join our email list for updates and community events. In particular, its helpful to have 
     -- local community groups to support ordinances in their city,
     -- polyamorous or non-nuclear or multi-partner families with stories of discrimination or the hardship of not having legal recognition for more than 2 partners (to share either anonymously or not), and
     -- researchers or professionals with data on these families that supports the need for these ordinances.

Join the community on social media to hear updates as well:


The Chosen Family Law Center has also put out a press release today, building on Diana's answers above. A new bit, summing up at least six months of volunteers' legal work and work with Cambridge city councillors and the city's LGBTQ+ Commission:

In 2020, Somerville became the first city to allow multi-partner domestic partnership, but all three or four-plus adults needed to register together, and there were a few other provisions that made it difficult to be utilized in practice. Cambridge's ordinance is based on a model ordinance drafted by our legal expert team at Polyamory Legal Advocacy Coalition, and may have much greater practical impact for those in our community. 


The actual changes to the city's domestic partnership ordinance are spelled out here. Specifically, near the end:

Proposed Order     Mar 8, 2021

WHEREAS: The Ordinance Committee met on Jan 20, 2021 to conduct a hearing on amendments to Chapter 2.119 of the Domestic Partnership Ordinance; and

WHEREAS: The Ordinance Committee voted to forward the following amendments to the full City Council with a favorable recommendation; now therefore be it

ORDERED: That section 2.119.020(D) of the Ordinances of the City of Cambridge be amended to read as follows:

D. "Domestic partnership" means the entity formed by two or more persons who meet the following criteria and jointly file a registration statement proclaiming that:

1. They are in a relationship of mutual support, caring and commitment and intend to remain in such a relationship; and

2. They reside together; and

3 2. They are not married to anyone outside the partnership; and [deleted - QZ]

4 3 2. They are not related by blood closer than would bar marriage in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts; and

5 4 3. They are each other's sole domestic partner They are not in a domestic partnership with others outside this partnership; and

6 5 4. They are competent to contract; and

7 6 5. They consider themselves to be a family.

ORDERED: That section 2.119.020(E) of the Ordinances of the City of Cambridge be deleted in its entirety:

E. Subsequent to the filing of a registration form, the existence of a "family" relationship may be shown by evidence relevant to the following factors:

1. The manner in which the people live their daily lives;

2. How they hold their relationship out to the world;

3. Their emotional and financial commitment;

4. Their reliance on each other for daily family services;

5. The longevity of their relationship; and

6. Any other factors which may be relevant.

ORDERED: That section 2.119.030 of the Ordinances of the City of Cambridge be amended to read as follows:

2.119.030 - Registration and withdrawal termination.

A. Persons who meet the criteria set out in subsection D of Section 2.119.020 may make an official record of their domestic partnership by filing a domestic partnership registration form with the City Clerk. The domestic partnership registration shall include the name and date of birth of each of the domestic partners, the address of their common household, and the name and dates of birth of any dependents of the domestic partnership, and shall be signed, under the pains and penalties of perjury, by all both domestic partners.

B. Domestic partners may amend the domestic partnership registration to add or delete domestic partners, dependents, or change the household address. Amendments to the domestic partnership registration shall be signed, under the pains and penalties of perjury, by all both domestic partners.

C. If any member of the domestic partnership is married or in another domestic partnership, notice of the registration of this domestic partnership and/or of the addition of new partner(s) to this domestic partnership must be given by certified mail to any marital or domestic partnersoutside of this domestic partnership. [QZ addition]

D. C. A domestic partnership is terminated by the death of a domestic partner or by the filing of a termination statement by a domestic partner. Any person in a domestic partnership may voluntarily withdraw from the domestic partnership by filing a withdrawal statement.

1. The death of a domestic partner automatically terminates a domestic partnership.2. Any person in a domestic partnership may voluntarily withdraw from the domestic partnership by filing A domestic partnership may be terminated by a domestic partner who files with the City Clerk, by hand or by certified mail, a termination withdrawal statement. The person filing the withdrawal termination statement must declare under pains and penalties of perjury that they are withdrawing from the domestic partnership is terminated and that a copy of the termination withdrawal statement has been mailed by certified mail to the other domestic partners at his or her their last known addresses. The person filing the termination withdrawal statement must include on such statement the addresses to which the copy was mailed. The fee for a domestic partnership withdrawal termination shall be $5.00.

2. The death of a domestic partner functions as an automatic withdrawal from the domestic partnership as to that partner.

E. D. If there are only two persons in the domestic partnership, withdrawal of one person terminates the domestic partnership. If there are more than two persons in the domestic partnership, withdrawal of one partner does not terminate the domestic partnership as to the remaining persons in the domestic partnership. The termination of a domestic partnership shall be effective immediately upon the death of a domestic partner. The voluntary withdrawal termination of from a domestic partnership by a partner shall be effective seven days after the receipt of a withdrawal terminationn statement by the City Clerk. Prior to becoming effective, the person who filed the withdrawal termination statement may retract withdraw the withdrawal termination statement in person or by certified mail at the office of the City Clerk. If the withdrawal termination statement is retracted withdrawn, the domestic partner shall give notice of the retraction, by certified mail, to the other domestic partners. The withdrawal of a deceased person from a domestic partnership shall be effective immediately upon the death of that domestic partner.

F. E. If a domestic partnership is terminated by the death of a domestic partner, there shall be no required waiting period prior to filing another domestic partnership. If a person voluntarily withdraws from a domestic partnership, is terminated by one or both domestic partners, neither that person may not domestic partner may file another domestic partnership until six months ninety days have elapsed from withdrawal termination.


●  In other news today, this is the publication date of Three Dads and a Baby: Adventures in Modern Parenting. It's Dr. Ian Jenkins' memoir of how his triad became the first (as far as we know) group of three adults to become the equal, fully official legal parents of a newborn, with all three of their names on the birth certificate. The book is getting widespread publicity, and you couldn't have asked for a more mainstream-appealing gay triad for a test case. More to come.  
 Don't miss Polyamory in the News!
 SUBSCRIBE by a feed, or
 SUBSCRIBE by email



1 comment:

  1. Turtles All The WayMarch 09, 2021 12:55 PM

    Why is Seattle being left behind??