Polyamory in the News
. . . by Alan M.

September 26, 2022

NYC judge says polyfamilies are families. New polyactivist organization. A kid's polyparenting question goes viral, and more.

●  Polyfamily legal rights continue to develop on various scattered fronts, often when real-world situations land in court. The latest: "A New York trial court judge concludes that polyamorous relationships are entitled to the sort of legal protection given to two-person relationships."

The situation: New York City, long afflicted by unaffordable housing, has "rent stabilization" laws that cover many buildings. Rent stabilization protects not just the leaseholder from large rent hikes but also their family if the leaseholder dies. In this case the leaseholder who died was a member of a married gay couple living apart. A man who had long been living in the unit with him claimed to be part of the family and that he should be covered by the dead man's rent stabilization.

But the legal spouse swore in an affidavit that he and the deceased were "life partners" and for their 25 years "we held ourselves out as a couple, an exclusive couple." In other words, no polyfamily?

So the case is messy. New York Civil Court Judge Karen May Bacdayan granted and denied various motions in her ruling September 23rd and ordered another court session for October 4th.

But in that ruling, she explained at length that the case could not be turned down simply because the claimed family had three adults rather than two, nor because two of them may have disliked each other. And, perhaps also looking to future cases, she set out detailed arguments for recognition of polyfamily rights in general.

I'm no lawyer, so I'll flip you to this article by Eugene Volokh (at the Volokh Conspiracy, a blogsite of 29 lawyers hosted by the libertarian magazine Reason; Sept. 24).

...The decision is yesterday's West 49th St., LLC v. O'Neill, decided by New York Civil Court Judge Karen May Bacdayan. After Anderson [the leaseholder] died, O'Neill [his live-in partner] would have had the right to renew the lease if he were "a non-traditional family member," but Anderson was married to Robert Romano. The apartment-building company therefore argued that O'Neill was just a roommate, but the court concluded that there needed to be a hearing about whether Anderson, Romano, and O'Neill were actually in a polyamorous relationship.

[Quoting the judge:] 

Before gay marriage was legalized in any state, Braschi v Stahl Assocs. Co. (N.Y. 1989) was decided. The New York State Court of Appeals became the first American appellate court to recognize that a non-traditional, two-person, same-sex, committed, family-like relationship is entitled to legal recognition, and that the nontraditional family member is entitled to receive noneviction protections. ... 

...Braschi is widely regarded as a catalyst for the legal challenges and changes that ensued. ... However, Braschi and its progeny and Obergefell limit their holdings to two-person relationships. The [current] case presents the distinct and complex issue of significant multi-person relationships.

New York State legislation after Braschi spelled out various criteria that would make a nontraditional household a legal family, but it assumed two adults. Further quoting the judge, 

Do all nontraditional relationships have to comprise or include only two primary persons? ...What was "normal" or "nontraditional" in 1989 is not a barometer for what is normal or nontraditional now. Indeed, the definition of "family" has morphed considerably since 1989. Specifically, many articles have been written about multi-person relationships in recent years, revealing a preference that for some has long been known. ...

In support of that the judge describes some of these articles, and she reviews recent cases and local legislation that expand the definition of "nontraditional family" to include polyfamilies and other bonded households of more than two adults. She points to media coverage of polyamory as a rising thing with legal needs, the easing of Utah's anti-polygamy laws, and the Harvard Law School magazine's glowing coverage of the Polyamory Legal Advocacy Coalition (PLAC). (And there was that big Harvard Law Review analysis that came out last March, Three’s Company, Too: The Emergence of Polyamorous Partnership Ordinances.) The judge again:

This begs the question: Should a person who would not meet the requirements for succession to a rent stabilized apartment after Braschi was decided in 1989, now, 33 years later, be evicted when they may qualify, as was the concluded in Braschi, under a more inclusive interpretation of a family?

...The existence of a triad should not automatically dismiss [O'Neill]'s claim to noneviction protections. If [O'Neill] could potentially qualify in his own right, it should not be a dispositive factor that another person who does not live in the subject could also qualify if only they lived in the apartment….

The court recognizes the difficulty and potential implications of not interpreting the Braschi court's interpretation of the word "family" as drawing a bright line which must end at what is now considered a traditional dyadic relationship. (The internet is rife with articles bemoaning the estate planning and child custody complications that arise from these new relational constructs.) ...

Volokh concludes,

I should note that in "Same-Sex Marriage and Slippery Slopes" (2005), I argued that slippage from recognizing same-sex relationships to recognizing polyamorous relationships was unlikely, and I still tentatively think so; and this particular decision is, after all, the decision of just one judge at a relatively low-level court, who is expressly criticizing in part the decisions of the New York high court and the U.S. Supreme Court. Still, I thought the opinion was worth noting.

Here's the judge's whole ruling on September 23rd including her discussion.

Correction: My original version of this post implied that the case has been fully decided. In fact, a followup continues October 4.

Update September 28: Now there's an article in New York's Gay City News: NYC housing court judge expands rental family protection beyond couples (Sept. 27).

By Arthur S. Leonard

A New York City Housing Court judge ruled on September 23 that it was possible for two different men to be members of a deceased gay tenant’s family at the same time. Rejecting a landlord’s motion to evict the man who had been living in the apartment with the decedent, Judge Karen May Bacdayan decided that Markyus O’Neill should have the opportunity to prove that he was a family member of Scott Anderson, despite the landlord’s evidence that Robert Romano swore that he was Anderson’s life partner, even though they lived in separate apartments. ...

Update October 14: Lots of conservative media have now discovered this case, including the National Review and many religious outlets. As these rulings spread, there will be blowback. 

●  Almost that same day, the UK's mainstream Independent published Most of the world doesn’t practise monogamy – so when will UK law recognise polyamory instead? (Sept. 22).

Get past the clickbait headline, and it's a powerful piece that deserved a better headline writer. It also highlights a new polyactivist organization.

More and more Brits are exploring polyamory and ethical non-monogamy, but it remains unrepresented in the mainstream and unrecognised in law. Matthew Neale meets those fighting to change that.

‘If women can legitimately have multiple-partnership relationships
as well, the patriarchy wants nothing to do with that
under any circumstances.’ (iStock)

By Matthew Neale

I get asked a lot of questions about being polyamorous. ... But to answer the most popular enquiry: yes, I do sometimes get a little jealous.

Not of my partners, I should clarify. Or indeed any of their partners, all of whom are out here living their best lives.... What I envy instead are the legal protections and social recognition that is yet to be afforded to set-ups like mine. Or many other domestic scenarios that don’t resemble a 1950s family photograph. Those felt barely realistic back then, and feel even more cruelly anachronistic today.

Nonetheless, to see polyamory or ethical non-monogamy (ENM) as new, shiny relationship models is, for the most part, to view global history back to front. ...


Giulia Smith, founder of the newly formed UK Polyamory Association (UKPA), believes that polyamorous and ENM communities are sorely lacking in representation, and wants to provide support and advocacy for those people who face discrimination or stigma for their way of life.

‘The real challenge is to build a world where polyamory
is accepted by everyone.’ (iStock)

“Basically, polyamory isn’t recognised by the law in the UK,” Smith tells me from their living room in Bristol. “A common issue is harassment: polyamorous people can often experience verbal abuse, be accused of immoral or unethical behaviour, or be excluded by their family or workplace.” That can have a ripple effect across all areas of life, including social isolation. It means people can be discouraged from being open about their relationships, which in turn limits polyamorous visibility in society. “The fear of coming out is huge,” Smith adds.

How do we change that stigma? As well as advocating for people currently facing discrimination, Smith also hopes to provide – as part of the UKPA – training and education within key institutions to create a better, more inclusive future. That could include health clinics, domestic abuse shelters and – most crucially – schools, where sex education doesn’t currently acknowledge polyamory. It’s a project that necessitates fighting battles on multiple fronts, though there are urgent priorities.

“We think there are two key policies that need amending,” they say. “The first is family law. Marriage, I think, is a very long way away, in terms of being able to have more than one spouse. The first step is more likely to be civil partnership. But before that, [we need] inclusion in the Equality Act. That would then automatically raise the perception of employment law, property law, healthcare legislation, harassment. It wouldn’t necessarily mean the legislation in those areas would change straight away, but it would be the first step.”

Dr Elisabeth Sheff, an author and expert in polyamory in the US, agrees. “Those two [policies] are the most important,” she tells me over the phone from upstate New York. “Family law would not only cover custody of children, but also sharing of benefits and things like that. In the UK, that’s not as big of a deal, but in the US, where we have enormous gaps in our healthcare insurance, being able to cover multiple spouses under insurance makes an enormous difference to some people.”

...It seems all the stranger when you consider that strict monogamy accounts for only about 17 per cent of human cultures. Of course, that’s not to say that the remaining 83 per cent come under the banner of ethical non-monogamy; far from it. Laws do exist in the world regarding multiple partners – polygamy was decriminalised in Utah in 2020, primarily with regard to members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, commonly known as Mormons – but the common denominator is patriarchal households where men take multiple wives. These kinds of communities have historically been rife with various forms of abuse.

What makes conservative lawmakers uncomfortable, it seems, is when agency – particularly, but not exclusively, sexual agency – is no longer the exclusive preserve of men. Or as Sheff puts it: “If women can legitimately have multiple-partnership relationships as well, the patriarchy wants nothing to do with that under any circumstances.”...

...While lifestyles involving multiple partners may be nothing new, however, there is a growing sense that some of these changes may reflect an adaptation to pressures faced by younger generations today. Or, to quote a viral tweet from last year, “ ‘Why is everyone poly these days?’  Motherf***er, it takes seven people to be able to buy a house”.

...But people aren’t just choosing to be polyamorous out of dire necessity. It’s also worth remembering that, despite misconceptions to the contrary, the term “partner” in ENM circles doesn’t merely equate to sexual partners. ... For most, I would suggest, it’s more about building something bigger – forging a chosen family (or “logical family”) based on the people you want to share your life with, however much or little of it that may be, and not just the people who arrive in your life by circumstance or birth. In short, it’s about community. ...

It’s the kind of community that people used to more commonly find in church, or with their neighbours, or the one person they chose to provide all the sex, intimacy and companionship they would need for the rest of their lives. Some of those institutions still hold strong, though many are being questioned or left behind. “But we’re left with that hunger,” Sheff tells me. “For connection, [or] a larger sense of wanting to know who’s close to us. To have a bigger network than just the people we’re having sex with is a deeply human desire, and that is largely unmet in many societies, even by religion.” ...


Leaving law behind, 

●  More Poly and Christian. An ex-fundamentalist found a welcoming new home in the often poly-friendly United Church of Christ, which stands on the side of love. I'm polyamorous, and I'm also Christian. Both parts of my identity are important to me (Insider.com, Sept. 21). She's the same Jennifer Martin who wrote the "poly dream home" story, also on Insider (Aug. 30), that headlined my post before last.

When I grew up, I was raised in a strict Pentecostal, conservative household where the only acceptable form of relationship was marriage between one man and one woman. Even divorce was considered fairly taboo; homosexuality and sex before marriage were definitely off the table.

"Jennifer Martin speaking at Wild Goose,
a progressive Christian festival."

...Despite that, I would often develop crushes in middle school and high school, and I'd often have them on multiple people at the same time; and not just on boys, either.

When I met my husband, Daniel, I thought I could finally put all of that to rest. We met when we were both 18 and got married when we were 20. ... We had two children by the time I was 25. However, by this time, I was starting to fall away from the theology and politics of my childhood. I found myself agreeing with more and more progressive ideologies every day and felt out of place at church and with my conservative friends and family.

We moved from Cleveland, Tennessee to Richmond, Virginia for a fresh start and I started going to a United Church of Christ. The denomination changed my life: They're known for their progressive policies. They were the first to allow LGBTQ clergy to be ordained and the first to marry LGBTQ couples in general. It felt like home to me, like this was the type of Christianity I had always longed for.

At the same time I was going to a new denomination, I was discovering things about myself, including the fact that my ability to develop attraction to multiple people simultaneously had stuck around into adulthood. After a lot of discussion, research, and therapy, my husband and I opened our relationship, and now we live in a home with my partners and our two kids. I'm happily and openly bisexual and polyamorous, and I couldn't imagine my life any other way.

...Well-meaning people ask why I'm still a Christian when I could be agnostic, or atheist, or something else. My answer is that I still believe in God and the teachings of Jesus Christ. I go to church every week, I pray, I read the Bible, and I still believe in Christlike values, like caring for the poor or fighting oppression. 

In fact, I think my faith is stronger and more radical than ever. I really like Christianity, even with its many, many flaws, and I identify strongly with it. I'm happy to be able to raise my children with a form of Christianity that isn't about who's going to hell — which I don't believe in — and teaches love as the most important commandment. ...

This piece is upsetting traditionalists. It's reported on with disapproval at ChurchLeaders.com: My Christian Faith and Polyamory Don’t Conflict, Writer Insists (Sept. 22).

●  Traditional polygamy has deep indigenous roots in Africa, and it continues to be accepted in some African countries and cultures. African news media discuss it fairly often. Nowadays, Western egalitarian polyamory also enters the discussion as an alternative. For instance, in Kenya's Saturday Standard: Pulling and fooling on polyamory (Sept. 24) 

...Admittedly, polyamory is more popular in the more liberal countries like America where research shows that more than 20 per cent of Americans have participated in a consensual, non-monogamous relationship at some point in their lives, than perhaps in African countries like Kenya, but like other popular cultures, this is gradually changing.

It is founded on the belief that love is not finite and that connecting deeply with others should not be restricted to a single partner with whom we can explore emotionally and physically intimate relationships.

In many [sic] polyamorous relationships, each partner is aware of the other ones, and they may also have relationships with each other. In such situations, polyamorous relationships can either be hierarchical where one relationship takes priority over others, or they can be equal.

 "For a polyamory relationship to work,
there must be clear communication among the
partners and their consent. (iStockphoto)"
In a hierarchical structure, a person will often have primary and secondary partners. Primary partners can be those to whom they are married, live with or have children, while secondary partners may not be as intertwined in their lives (perhaps, as the primary partner) but they still will be fully committed to each other.

“I never imagined that I would be (in a relationship) like this,” says Bakari.

The 32-year-old, born and bred in Bamburi, Mombasa, is a caretaker of a beach house not far from his home....

An "Am I The Asshole?" query posted on Reddit prompted many thousand responses and an article in Newsweek: Teen Backed For Telling Polyamorous Parents' Third She's Not Her Second Mom (Sept. 23)

A teen is being supported for refusing to apologize after snapping at her polyamorous parents' partner for trying to discipline her.

The teen, u/AITA_polyparents, shared her story to the popular Reddit forum r/AmITheA**hole, earning 12,000 upvotes and 1,800 comments in six hours for her post, "[Am I the A**hole] for refusing to apologize to my parents' poly partner?"

The original poster (OP) says that her parents came out as polyamorous four years ago, and both have been dating "Maddison" for the last three years. Maddison moved in to their house two years ago, and though the OP describes her as "overall an okay-ish person," she objects to Maddison's attempts to be the "cool mom."

"My parents relationship with Maddison is very serious, both of my families know her and while not everyone accepts her as a ''real'' part of their marriage, they're okay with her too. For me, she's more like a roommate my parents love rather that a parent figure or someone I have to listen (My dad's is okay with her trying to discipline me, but my mom is not)."

Maddison's attempt at parenting OP caused trouble recently when OP and her boyfriend were hanging out in the kitchen, chatting and watching videos. When Maddison came home and saw the OP and her boyfriend, she "began to act very weird," and started watching them while pretending to be on her smartphone.

OP's boyfriend was uncomfortable having an audience, and took his leave. Once they were alone, Maddison told OP that it was unacceptable to be alone with a boy as a 16-year-old, and she shouldn't do it again.

"I was honestly shocked, my parents know my boyfriend pretty well and more than that, they know me, and I would never betray their trust by doing something I'm not allowed yet just because I was alone," she wrote.

While Maddison tried to continue explaining, the OP cut her off to tell her that she wasn't her parent, and had no right to try to raise her. When Maddison said she was only trying to help, OP said she could talk to her "REAL parents," and they could raise any issue with her.

"Just because she was dating them both didn't make her mommy two," u/AITA_polyparents recalled telling Maddison.

The following day, OP's dad confronted her. Maddison had talked to both of OP's parents that evening, and while OP's mom agreed that Maddison had overstepped, OP's dad agreed with Maddison, and told her he wanted to know when OP was alone with her boyfriend. ...

Redditors took the teen's side.

"[Not the A**hole], your parents decided to be polyamorous, you didn't decide to be polyparented," u/Strange-Tip-1897 wrote in the top-rated comment with 24,500 upvotes.

"Not to mention what I call the 'step parent rule:' -- If they're not old enough to have given birth to you, they're not old enough to be a parental figure," u/arachnobravia added. "Maddison was 11 when OP was born, she has no right to be anything other than an older sister figure. OP, please explain this to your father."

"You should tell your mom that your dad said that to you. You don't need to give a heads up that you're hanging out with your boyfriend in the living room. You can tell that she's in her 20s from the way she acts, she doesn't have any understanding that you're not age 3," u/plscallmeRain wrote. ...

Reality check for poly parents: Structurally, a triad has three times the chance for parenting disagreements than a couple. That's because a triad has three pairs of people, three axes for possible disagreement. A couple has only one. A quad has six.

There's a reason for "communicate, communicate, communicate." In advance. Out of the kids' hearing.


Meanwhile, shit gets real. (Updated.)

Why have I been ending most posts to this polyamory news site with the Ukraine war? With links like this?

Because I've seen many progressive movements become irrelevant and die out by failing to scan the wider world correctly and understand their position in it strategically.

We polyamorous people are a small, weird minority of social-rule breakers. Increasingly influential people call us a threat to society — because by living successfully outside their worldview, we expose its incompleteness. Our freedom to choose our relationship structures, and to speak up for ourselves about the truth of ourselves, is just one way we depend on a free and pluralistic society that respects people's dignity to create their own lives, to access facts, and to speak of what they know.

The Russian family-cartoon series Masyanya
turned dissident. Watch. The cartoonist has fled.
Such a society is only possible where people have power to govern themselves, combined with legal structures that are at least supposed to guarantee the rights of all.

People, communities, and societies who create their own lives, and who insist on the democratic structures and legal rights that enable them to do so safely, infuriate and terrify the authoritarians who are growing in power around the world and in our own United States.

Such rulers and would-be rulers seek to stamp out other people's freedom to choose their lives — by intimidation, repressive laws, inflammatory falsehoods and public incitement, or, eventually, artillery.

For what it's worth, this site has received more pagereads from Ukraine over the years (56,400) than from any other country in eastern Europe.

For now, you can donate to Ukraine relief through this list of organizations, or many others. We're giving to a big one, Razom, and to a little one, Pizza for Ukraine in Kharkiv, a project of an old friend of my wife.


But that is only the start. For those of us born since World War II, this is the most consequential war of our lifetimes.

The coming times are going to require hard things of us. We don't get to choose the time and place in history we find ourselves born into. We do get to choose how we respond to it. Buck up and be ready.

Need a little help bucking up? Play this. Another version. More? Just some guys in Kharkiv (our Pizza for Ukraine town) helping to hold onto a free and open society, a shrinking thing in the world. The tossed grenade seems to have saved them. Maybe your granddad did this across a trench from Hitler's troops — for you, and for us,  because a world fascist movement was successfully defeated that time, opening the way for the rest of the 2oth century. Although the outcome didn't look good for a couple of years there.

Remember, these people say they're doing it for us too. They are correct.  The global struggle between a free, open future and a fearful revival of the dark past that's shaping up, including in our own country, is still in its early stages. The situation is going to get worse before it gets better. The outcome is again uncertain, and it will determine the 21st century and the handling of all its other problems.

We'll have a better idea after the election. Whatever else you do, vote.


PS: Ukraine should not be idealized as the paragon of an open democratic society. For instance, see If Ukraine Wants To Stand for Liberty and Democracy, It Should Rethink Some of Its Wartime Policies. And the country had quite a history of being run by corrupt oligarchs — until the Maidan Uprising of 2013, the Revolution of Dignity in 2014, and Zelensky's overwhelming election in 2019 as the anti-corruption candidate. So they're working on that.

Now, writes US war correspondent George Packer in The Atlantic (Sept. 7),   

Here was a country with a tragic history that had at last begun to build, with great effort, a better society. What made Ukraine different from any other country I had ever seen—certainly from my own—was its spirit of constant self-improvement, which included frank self-criticism. For example, there’s no cult of Volodymyr Zelensky in Ukraine—a number of Ukrainians told me that he had made mistakes, that they’d vote against him after the war was won. Maxim Prykupenko, a hospital director in Lviv, called Ukraine “a free country aspiring to be better all the time.” The Russians, he added, “are destroying a beautiful country for no logical reason to do it. Maybe they are destroying us just because we have a better life.”

They have a word there, with a deep history, for the horizontal, self-organized mutual get-it-done that grows from community social trust: hromada. Learn that word. It's getting them through. We polyfolks often dream of creating that sort of community spirit in miniature, in our polycules and networks. Occasionally we succeed.

Social attitudes in Ukraine are generally traditional, but not bitterly so like often in the US; the ideal of modern European civil society is widely treasured, and social progressivism has room to thrive. More than 40,000 women volunteers reportedly have been integrated into all roles in the armed forces, including as combat officers, platoon leadersartillery gunners, tankers, and snipers LGBT folx in the armed forces openly wear symbols of LGBT pride on their uniforms, while in Russia it can be a crime for even a civilian to wear a rainbow pin. Writes kos in the big lefty news site Daily Kos (July 29),

I find [this] particularly salient given American conservative hostility toward women serving in our military. People like Ted Cruz praising the supposed manliness of the Russian army, while claiming ours is weak because of “woke culture.” Ukraine puts that bullshit to bed, not just with the women serving in its ranks, but with gay soldiers very publicly sewing unicorn patches on their uniforms to denote their pride.

He retweets a meme from a military blogger on the plight of the abused gay Russian draftee:

To hell with any conservatives who impugn anyone’s service as somehow less effective or honorable than white straight men. 

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