Polyamory in the News
. . . by Alan M.

March 24, 2023

Somerville, Mass., passes America's first polyamory anti-discrimination law. More cities likely to follow.

Last night, after riveting presentations by members of the Polyamory Legal Advocacy Coalition (PLAC), the City Council of Somerville, Mass., enacted the nation's first law adding family or relationship structure to its list of prohibited discriminations covering city employees — right up there with race, religion, sex, national origin, and other protected categories.

The votes to enact were unanimous and were greeted with audience applause. City Councilor J.T. Scott said, "This is one of those times when I'm really happy to have this job," as a chance to genuinely improve residents' lives. (Moose and I were there.)

The outcome was not in doubt. It resulted from months of work by PLAC's high-energy lawyers and activists working with city councilors to craft a set of seven modifications to city ordinances to enact the addition, not a simple process.

PLAC has similar ordinances in the works for Berkeley, California, and other progressive municipalities. A representative from one of these attended the Somerville vote.

Somerville was already famous in the poly world for enacting the first multi-partner domestic partnership law in June 2020. Although that law applies only locally, polyfamilies anywhere can apply for a certificate of Somerville domestic-partnership status to create an official government document recognizing the existence of their family, as evidence in case of any future need (and, suitable for framing).  

PLAC members had negotiated an exclusive first-interview agreement with the Boston Globe, the leading newspaper of New England. The Globe's article appeared less than two hours after the vote, and by this morning (March 24) it was the Globe's second most-read story online.

Here it is. The people in the photo are five of PLAC's six members.

From left, Kimberly Rhoten, Dr. Heath Schechinger, Alexander Chen, Diana Adams, and Andy Izenson celebrated outside before the Somerville City Council signed the ordinance. Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff

By Meredith Goldstein

Somerville secured its place as a supportive hub for people in polyamorous relationships Thursday night when the City Council unanimously approved an antidiscrimination ordinance to protect people in polyamorous and other consensually nonmonogamous relationships.

The ordinance — the first of its kind, according to those involved — prohibits [city]  employment and policing discrimination against those in relationships of two or more people.

Nearly three years ago, Somerville became the first municipality in the country to pass an ordinance on domestic partnerships that includes polyamorous relationships. It arose from a request by a resident for a policy on domestic partnerships, for example, to provide rights to people to care for their partners, such as paperwork that enables them to visit loved ones in the hospital.

Somerville City Councilor J.T. Scott subsequently asked, “Why only one?” The language was changed to broaden the ordinance.

Cambridge passed similar legislation in March 2021, as did Arlington, with a bylaw approved at an April 2021 Town Meeting.

The Massachusetts-based Polyamory Legal Advocacy Coalition helped draft the language for the legislation in these communities. Polyamory — as opposed to consensual nonmonogamy — refers to having more than one committed romantic or emotionally intimate partner. Diana Adams, executive director of the Chosen Family Law Center, explained, “It might mean that you’re in a triad where all three people are committed to one another.”

Consensual nonmonogamy is a broader term that might refer to two people in a loving, committed relationship who are also are intimate with others.

Before the meeting Thursday, advocates for the ordinance — including Councilors Scott and Willie Burnley Jr. — gathered to celebrate and discuss its meaning.

Burnley said he wants Somerville to continue to be an example for other cities and towns.

“I’m a Black, queer, polyamorous person on the City Council,” he said. “I want Somerville to be a sanctuary.”

Adams, whose New York City-based organization oversees the Polyamory Legal Advocacy Coalition, said the legislation will have a ripple effect. Adams said they know people outside of Massachusetts who, following the 2020 ordinance, registered with multiple partners in Somerville and have used the designation to get health insurance for a partner back home.

Adams said policies on a municipal level can be the start of big change. That was one of the lessons of the same-sex partnership movement, they said; that once you can put your partner and family on paper, “that really helps change social attitudes.”

“That gives you a stamp of legitimacy,” they said. “The government is saying this is a valid a relationship.”

As of early 2022, nine people — three groups of three partners — were listed as domestic partnerships in Somerville. Three people have registered as partners in Cambridge, according to the city clerk’s office. There are also three people registered as partners in Arlington, according to the town clerk’s office. Adams said others in similar relationships might have hesitated to put their names on the books because of fear of discrimination — hence Thursday’s ordinance vote.

“Employment discrimination is the most rampant kind of discrimination people experience,” Adams said, adding that they know of clients who have been punished at work for having a photo of their partners on their desk, or for being public about their nontraditional relationship structures. ”It’s a powerful precedent to establish this law — for respect.”

An October 2022 Boston Globe’s Love Letters podcast featured an interview with one of the people who applied for domestic partnership in Somerville with two partners. The person appeared on the podcast using a pseudonym because they said they feared negative reactions from their employers, family, or other people in the community.

Alexander Chen, founding director of the Harvard Law School LGBTQ+ Advocacy Clinic, who also teaches “Gender identity, Sexual Orientation, and the Law” at Harvard Law School, said the new legislation’s specificity makes other antidiscrimination laws more effective.

“Having legislation that is explicit is really important,” Chen said, adding that every law has to be interpreted, enforced, and adjudicated by judges, lawyers, and politicians.

Chen, whose clinic supports the Polyamory Legal Advocacy Coalition, said this kind of ordinance shouldn’t be a partisan issue. A common “charge against liberals,” he said, is that they want to “look to the state” for care solutions, while conservatives want people to find private solutions. This, Chen said, is a case of people asking for permission to be responsible for loved ones.

“If people want to take legal responsibility for each other, that’s a good thing,” he said.

Among those attending the PLAC afterparty in Alex Chen's apartment — a packed, loud gathering bursting with energy and legal brilliance — was Caroline Giuliani, who expects to have an article in Vanity Fair next week.

MassLive goes into better detail about who and what the law actually covers: Polyamorous people just got discrimination protections in this Mass. city (March 24)

By Dave Eisenstadter

...The ordinances... would prevent the city from firing or otherwise discriminating against any city employee, including teachers, firefighters and police officers, in romantic relationships with two or more people. They also protect people from biased policing.

Somerville City Councilor Willie Burnley Jr., who helped propose the ordinance, said he believes the city will also pass an ordinance in the next two months [currently in committee --Ed.] protecting polyamorous individuals from housing discrimination from landlords in Somerville.

“I think it’s very important people aren’t denied their basic rights based on who they love,” Burnley said. “This is such a crucial and important step forward in recognizing the diversity of our relationship structures.

Families and individuals in non-monogamous partnerships and relationships generally have little protection against discrimination in the workplace and other arenas, and many have been afraid for years, even decades, to be open about those relationships, he said.

...People have been fired from their jobs for mentioning they are in polyamorous relationships or for having photos of multiple partners on their desks, Adams said.

Adams has represented clients in New York in which a parent’s sexuality has become a key factor in whether they are allowed to have custody of their child.

...Heath Schechinger, a fellow cofounder of the Polyamory Legal Advocacy Coalition and a psychologist, said the majority of non-monogamous adults experience some form of discrimination, including family rejection, difficulty accessing supportive mental health care, housing discrimination and workplace discrimination.

“For many, societal stigma can lead to increased psychological distress such as increased depression and anxiety and have a negative impact on their relationships,” Schechinger said.

...Burnley, who is polyamorous himself, said people in polyamorous relationships can be at risk of losing employment and even being in danger of losing their children.

“We have seen many people have to fight for custody based on the fact that people do not understand that having multiple partners does not create an unsafe home,” he said.

As a result, a great number of people in polyamorous relationships keep silent about their relationship status in many areas of their lives, Burnley said.

Burnley said the council can’t create an ordinance that would extend employment protections to those working for private companies in the city, but they do control policing, and that aspect of the ordinances is important for normalizing those relationships.

He said the ordinance directs police that they not use someone’s family or relationship structure as a pretext to escalate legal consequences against them.

“I am hoping that this is going to be the start of a larger conversation or movement toward stability and protection for all non-monogamous families,” he said. ...

●  Update: CBS-TV News (WBZ) in Boston has a story (March 24), with nice footage of sponsors Willie Burnley and JT Scott. It's 2 minutes long:

From the transcript: 
Somerville bans discrimination against people in polyamorous relations:

By Juli McDonald

"For the longest time people in our community have lived in the shadows of the law in a lot of ways," Somerville City Councilor Willie Burnley Jr. said.

The city of Somerville is shining a light on protecting neighbors who love more than one romantic partner. A newly passed ordinance protects polyamorous people from workplace discrimination or biased policing based on their relationship structure.

"I've had people who I know live in this community reach out to me and say, 'I just heard the news. This is incredible. All of my partners are so excited," Burnley Jr. said.

Willie Burnley Jr. is a city councilor at large, but he's also been a part of the polyamorous community for about eight years.

..."For people especially with children, the fear of targeting by DCF or other child protective agencies in other states is real," said JT Scott, Ward 2 City Councilor. "So, this could be absolutely life-changing and allow them to actually live openly and not fear that their kids are at risk of being taken away from them."

Somerville city leaders say it's a big first step, but the real impact would come with other communities following suit.

●  Update: In the Somerville Patch, Somerville Passes Polyamorous Non-Discrimination Ordinances (March 24)

By Annie Jonas

...Many kind of families and relationships are protected under the ordinances, such as: multi-partner and multi-parent families and relationship, step-families, multi-generational households, non-nuclear family structures, consensually non-monogamous relationships, and consensual sexual or intimate relationships including asexual and aromantic relationships, according to city officials.

The ordinances were drafted by lawyers and activists at the Polyamory Legal Advocacy Coalition – part of Chosen Family Law Center – as well as Harvard Law School's LGBTQ+ Advocacy Clinic.

...[Said] Dr. Heath Schechinger, counseling psychologist and Co-Founder of Polyamory Legal Advocacy Coalition, “Every family, including polyamorous ones, should have equal legal protections, and it's heartening to witness this crucial step in cultivating a society that cherishes the liberty to love and form secure families without the burden of discrimination.”

●  Update: JDSupra Legal News reports on what happened: A New Protected Category: Somerville, MA Passes Polyamory Antidiscrimination Ordinance (March 28)

...The Somerville legislation... is drafted quite simply.  First, the City Council added the following two definitions to its Code of Ordinances: 

Relationship status. The words “relationship status” mean the actual or perceived involvement or noninvolvement of an individual in an intimate personal relationship or relationships. It includes an individual’s actual or perceived affinity, or lack thereof, for any given type of intimate personal relationship, regardless of whether the individual is currently in any intimate personal relationship(s). 

Intimate personal relationship. The words “intimate personal relationship” shall include any interpersonal relationship between two or more adult individuals that involves romantic, physical, or emotional intimacy. This includes multi-partner/multi-parent families and relationships, step families, multi-generational households, and consensual sexual relationships, including relationships involving consensual non-monogamy. 

Once those definitions were in place, the Council simply added “relationship status” to the section of its Ordinance mandating non-discriminatory treatment for city employees and job applicants—becoming the first jurisdiction to recognize a brand-new protected category. 

The simplicity of the Somerville ordinance makes it ripe for imitation. ... 

By Jim Clark

...The ordinance... prohibits discrimination in employment, policing, and more based on one’s family and relationship structure. The ordinances protect diverse families and intimate relationships in the city, including multi-partner/multi-parent families and relationships, step-families, multi-generational households, non-nuclear family structures, consensually non-monogamous relationships, and consensual sexual and/or intimate relationships, including asexual and aromantic relationships. ...


●  Councilor Willie Burnley, Jr., who introduced the legislation with JT Scott, has put up this meme:

●  Chosen Family Law Center press release. The CFLC is headed by Diana Adams; Andy Isenson is its senior legal director, vice president, and secretary.


Somerville Passes Historic Non-Discrimination Ordinance Protecting Polyamorous Families and Other  Diverse Relationships  

SOMERVILLE, MA - March 23rd, 2023 - Somerville City Council just made history by passing a  groundbreaking non-discrimination ordinance protecting polyamorous families and relationships. This  ordinance makes Somerville the first city in the United States to extend explicit legal protections to  polyamorous and other non-nuclear families and relationships.  

The ordinance, passed by a unanimous vote, prohibits discrimination in employment, policing, and more  based on one's family and relationship structure. The ordinance protects diverse families and intimate  relationships in the city, including multi-partner/multi-parent families and relationships, step-families,  multi-generational households, non-nuclear family structures, consensually non-monogamous  relationships, and consensual sexual and/or intimate relationships, including asexual and aromantic  relationships.  

The ordinance was drafted by lawyers & activists at the Polyamory Legal Advocacy Coalition, a project of  Chosen Family Law Center & Harvard Law School’s LGBTQ+ Advocacy Clinic, who previously passed their  model ordinances for multi-partner domestic partnership in Somerville in 2020, as well as Cambridge  and Arlington, MA in 2021. Similar non-discrimination laws and plural domestic partnership laws based  on their model ordinances have been introduced on the west coast and are expected to pass this year.  Councilmembers from the City of Berkeley, California, are working simultaneously to pass a similar non discrimination ordinance for non-monogamous families and relationships. "People should be able to  love and provide support for each other without fear of discrimination," said Terry Taplin, the Berkeley  City Council member sponsoring the Berkeley ordinance.  

“As a polyamorous person, I'm grateful to live in a city that embraces rather than punishes people based  on their family or relationship structure,” said Somerville Council member Willie Burnley Jr., who  introduced the ordinance. “The protections we extend today not only cement Somerville’s legislative  leadership and legacy on non-monogamous rights, they ensure that our neighbors know that they live in  a community where they can be who they are freely and love whom they love openly without fear of  government interference."  

"We commend the Somerville city council for their leadership on this issue.” shared Dr. Heath  Schechinger, counseling psychologist and Co-Founder of Polyamory Legal Advocacy Coalition. “Every  family, including polyamorous ones, should have equal legal protections, and it's heartening to witness  this crucial step in cultivating a society that cherishes the liberty to love and form secure families  without the burden of discrimination.”  

"With the passage of today's non-discrimination ordinance, Somerville is vindicating the promise it made  to its residents three years ago when it passed the first multiple domestic partnership ordinance in the  country that Somerville's government will not only legally recognize diverse family structures, but also  protect them from unequal treatment," said Alexander Chen, Founding Director of the Harvard LGBTQ+  Advocacy Clinic, who testified before the Legislative Matters Committee concerning features of the bill. “Children deserve to know that their families are protected no matter what shape they take.” 

Diana Adams (they/them) is Executive Director of Chosen Family Law Center and an attorney who has  been advocating for legal support for polyamorous & non-nuclear families since founding their New York  firm in 2007, as described in their TED Talk. They commented: “Since 2007, I have represented  thousands of clients in beautiful constellations of family beyond nuclear, including polyamorous families.  I’ve represented many clients in child custody cases in which inaccurate stigma about being  polyamorous was used against them. I’ve heard countless stories of discrimination, including being fired  for just mentioning being polyamorous. In 2023 when the majority of American children and adults  don’t live in a heterosexual nuclear family, we need anti-discrimination laws like this one in Somerville  to protect and value families as they exist, so we don’t need to worry about losing our job or custody of  our child because of how we build family.”  

“Millions of Americans are in consensually non-monogamous relationships and non-nuclear families,”  added Brett Chamberlin, Executive Director for the Organization for Ethical Non-monogamy and  Polyamory (OPEN), which organized for passage of this and other bills. “These populations are  increasingly organizing for the acceptance and protections that all families and consensual relationships  deserve.”  

Kimberly Rhoten, a socio-legal scholar who has written extensively on the current legal discrimination  against consensually non-monogamous parents and Co-Founder of the Polyamory Legal Advocacy  Coalition, noted, “Anti-discrimination legislation like this can protect diverse families and their children  from harmful prejudices that would otherwise result in limiting or removing a polyamorous parent’s  custody rights to their own children. By adopting laws that directly recognize these families as worth  protecting, courts may think twice about these harmful actions.”  

Chosen Family Law Center’s Senior Legal Director and Harvard LGBTQ Advocacy Clinic’s Clinical  Instructor Andy Izenson agreed, “It is crucial that protection from discrimination advances hand-in-hand  with relationship recognition. As we learned from the fight for same-sex marriage, relationship  recognition alone is a hollow victory, when our community members can celebrate their relationship  legally on Sunday and get fired for it on Monday. Discrimination protections are an important part of a  comprehensive legal strategy that prioritizes the most marginalized community members instead of only  serving the needs of the privileged.”  

"This legislation is about more than polyamory," according to David Jay, founder of the Asexual Visibility  and Education Network. "As an asexual activist who's part of a three-parent family, I'm proud to be part  of the coalition advocating for this legislation. Relationships and families built around nonsexual  intimacy often don't fit the two-partner model. Asexual people need these protections, so do solo  parents with communities of care."  

This historic move is applauded by polyamorous individuals and organizations across the country, who  have long faced stigma and discrimination. This bill passage is an essential step forward in the  movement for family inclusivity and recognition of the increasing diversity of families in the United States. 

●  From the letter of support submitted to the Somerville City Council by OPEN, the new Organization for Polyamory and Ethical Non-monogamy:

OPEN is a non-profit dedicated to advancing cultural acceptance of polyamory and ethical non-monogamy. Our vision is a future where romantic and intimate relationships between consenting adults are accepted and protected from discrimination.

Many local laws were written assuming all households were a narrowly defined nuclear family. Recent studies have shown that only 18% of households meet the model of a married couple and their biological children[1]. We believe Somerville’s laws should be updated to reflect the lived experience of its citizens. These amendments address this inequality, expanding necessary protections to more Somerville families.

In 2020 Somerville made history by passing an ordinance allowing more than two members in a domestic partnership, but it did not codify non-discrimination ordinances to match. Without legal recognition and protection, many families face significant obstacles when it comes to accessing basic rights and resources. Without these proposed protections registering a plural domestic partnership can open an individual up to further discrimination, the loss of a job, or housing.

By expanding the definition of family and relationship structure to include non-nuclear families and relationships, such as polyamorous relationships, the City Council will be providing greater protection and support for these families. Recognition as valid and legal will help combat misunderstandings surrounding this relationship style, provide greater visibility and acceptance for all family structures and help reduce the social stigma and isolation that many individuals experience. This is an opportunity to create a more inclusive and accepting community that celebrates diversity and supports all forms of consensual relationships.

Somerville is a proven leader in championing positive social change. We applaud your vision and encourage your continued support by amending Code of Ordinances sections 1-4, 2-326, 7-41, 7-44, 7-47, 15-31 and 12-102 to include nondiscrimination provisions based on family and relationship structure. Doing so will promote inclusivity, provide legal protection and recognition for these families, and help build a stronger, more vibrant community for all residents.

1. Article by the Center for American Progress (CAP), an analysis of the US Census Bureau data in 2020 shows that only 18.4% of American households follow the traditional nuclear family structure. CAP calculations are based on Bureau of the Census tables from the “Families and Living Arrangements: Historical Time Series”: Table HH1: Households by Type: 1940 to present and Table FM-1: Families by Presence of Own Children Under 18.

OPEN's series of graphics to repost. (To download, click the three dots next to "square" or "vertical" and choose "download".) 

Somerville City Hall
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March 22, 2023

Polyam legal action, other poly-life topics in the news, US public opinion edges our way, and more

America's first legal recognitions of polyfamilies have been enacted in a three localities in last three years. Laws allowing official multi-member domestic partnerships were approved in adjoining Somerville, Cambridge, and Arlington, Massachusetts, starting in July 2020. Such efforts are spreading, and local non-discrimination ordinances are next. In friendly cities and towns, they will add relationship status to lists of protected categories such as race, religion, sex, national origin, disability, etc.

So that your boss can't fire you, or your landlord throw you out of your home, on the basis that you're in a poly relationship. (It happens.) Watch this space. 

● Meanwhile, here's how one polyfam is looking to take advantage of the legal progress so far: 2 married couples divorced so they could become a polyamorous foursome (Insider, March 17)

Rachel Wright and partners (Courtesy Rachel Wright / Insider)

By Anna Medaris

...Still, it took Wright years to pursue polyamory – and an amicable divorce to create the nontraditional family she lives with today. 

Wright, now a 34-year-old licensed marriage family therapist in New York, shared her story with Insider to raise awareness of polyamorous, queer relationships and the legislation – like the emergence of multi-person domestic partnership agreements – that supports them. 

"These kinds of laws create a mindset shift" in communities, workplaces, and families, Diana Adams, Wright's lawyer and the executive director of the Chosen Family Law Center, told Insider. "It's a seal of approval from the government that this is something that's legitimate and should be respected." 


..."You know those relationships where all of a sudden you're like, 'Do we live together? Are we engaged?' It's the kind of whirlwind where it's happening, you're aware and you're consenting, but it's happening without you really pushing it," Wright said. "That's exactly how it was."

...They were acting like a family of four – not two couples cohabitating or even swinging – but their legal unions didn't reflect that. Plus, the Wrights were helping to pay the mortgage, but weren't building equity. 

That's when they sought the help of Adams, the lawyer, who's been on the front lines of passing multi-partner domestic partnership laws in three Massachusetts cities.

"With that multi-partner domestic partnership, you could be married to one person, but a domestic partner to a different person, which is really radical and has never happened before," Adams, a founding member of the Polyamory Legal Advocacy Coalition, said. "It also means that three of you could get into domestic partnerships with each other, or if I have a boyfriend and a girlfriend who are not in a relationship with each other, I could get into domestic partnership with each of them." 

"So it really allows for the flexibility and the variety of relationships that we're seeing now," they added. They are part of a nationwide movement to recognize multi-partner partnerships.

..."With domestic partnerships, you don't entangle your finances like marriage," Adams told Insider. "In some ways, I think that's a good thing." ...

Update: One member left, so they are now three, not four.

●  Also recently, in the UK's Times: Polyamorous families fight for rights (Feb. 24): "Throuples and non-monogamous couples in the US are pushing for greater recognition." It's paywalled. But I bet the Times was trying to catch up with this story in the UK's Economist: Polyamory is getting slivers of legal recognition in America. Also paywalled, but I excerpted it here.

●  More on polyfamily legal practicalities: I’m In A Polyamorous Throuple — Here’s How We Divide Our Finances (Refinery29, Feb. 23)

...She's the main money manager within her polyamorous throuple. It wasn't always that way, though. Janie met her partners Cody Coppola and Maggie Odell in 2013. Coppola and Odell were already together at that time, and Frank first assumed her relationship with them would be casual and fleeting. It wasn't. "Things didn't get serious super quickly, but we felt like a trio from the start," she remembers. In time, she was meeting Coppola's and Odell's families and spending nearly every night at their place.

...After the move-in, the three kept their finances separate and evenly split the rent, utilities, groceries, and necessities like toilet paper. There were some exceptions. Sometimes one person would treat the others to coffee. And, at that time, Frank made less money than the others, so if she couldn't afford something she needed or really wanted, her partners often offered to cover her.

But, later, when they all decided to move to a new state, Tennessee, and buy a house, things changed a bit. They'd need to take on a mortgage together. Frank was soon appointed the official money manager of the three, as it came most naturally to her and she had knowledge learned over the years, including from her coupon-genie of a mom. The throuple figured out that they could buy a house together by forming a Limited Liability Company (LLC). "It was a workaround because there wasn't really an easy way for the three of us to go in on a house together and get loans," Frank says. ...

But the number one thing that helped the trio financially was scheduling regular family meetings on Sunday mornings to talk about important issues such as money. "We have breakfast every Sunday to discuss not just finances but what we have to do with the house, any shared debt, and what needs to be done," Frank says.

These meals were places to air grievances and tackle the hard stuff, including the financial and emotional tolls on their relationship. For example, while dealing with the move and renovation, Frank presented a PowerPoint slideshow over pancakes to show Odell and Coppola where they were at with their budgeting (they were over). The presentation was complete with charts and an artfully crafted game plan that would have made Frank's coupon-clipping mom beam with pride. ...

Frank has learned a lot from managing money with multiple partners, but the biggest nugget of advice she'd pass on is this: "Just be open and honest. Acknowledge what could cause problems later down the road, whatever your financial situation, because things can change. However you decide to split things doesn't matter as long as you’re communicating and making sure that everyone is equally comfortable with what you’ve decided on." 

●  My last post talked about the two opposite reasons why the media are fascinated by living-together polyfamilies, even though these are a fairly uncommon type of ethical non-monogamy.

The media also dwell on the most common type — open-relationship couples — for a different reason: that's where the numbers are. Most American adults live together in long-term couples per the US Census Bureau (58% as of 2021). So it's no surprise that couples are where most people new to poly come from.

CNN.com, in its Health section, recently published some very typical couple-centered advice: Can a monogamous couple happily become nonmonogamous? It’s possible but not easy, experts say (Feb. 19). Notice the story's lack of attention to the interests of the other people involved, setting a bad example for naive couples despite the story's good intentions.

By Ian Kerner, CNN

Can a monogamous couple become nonmonogamous? Of course, they can — but do these couples survive and thrive? What are the pitfalls and what are the pleasures?

More and more in my practice I’m seeing couples of all ages who have always been in monogamous relationships but now are seriously thinking about opening up their relationships. They are young couples just starting out, couples with young kids and a mortgage, and empty nesters looking to find their wings.

The reasons for taking the leap vary. Often one or both partners may be feeling sexually dissatisfied in the primary relationship.... Sometimes there’s a hunger for the excitement and energy that come when people first connect with someone new. It’s also possible one or both partners don’t believe in monogamy.

...In a 2020 study of 822 currently monogamous people by Kinsey Institute research fellow Justin Lehmiller, nearly one-third said that having an open relationship was their favorite sexual fantasy, and 80% [of those] wanted to act on it. ...

“Research suggests that relationship quality is actually quite similar in monogamous and consensually nonmonogamous relationships,” he said. “Both relationship styles can work well — and both can fail, too.”

I believe the key to successful nonmonogamy is in one word: consensual. ...

For couples who choose to open their relationships ethically, there can be benefits. “Nonmonogamy can be fulfilling and a catalyst for self-growth,” Wisconsin-based sex therapist Madelyn Esposito said. “This self-growth can deepen understanding and desire for your primary partner as you have the space to explore yourself and your own sexual needs outside of relational confines.”

...Sometimes the heat generated outside the bedroom finds its way back into the primary relationship. “Many nonmonogamous folks find that partner variety revs up their libido, and that this transfers over into increased sex in the primary relationship,” Lehmiller said. “Something else we’ve found in our research is that, beyond sex, these relationships can also mutually reinforce each other. Specifically, being more satisfied with a secondary partner actually predicts being more committed to the primary partner.”

But making the leap into ethical nonmonogamy isn’t always easy for couples who have been historically monogamous. Often, one partner is “driving,” and the other is a reluctant passenger going along for the ride. Sometimes a couple can’t agree on what constitutes nonmonogamy (casual sex with different people versus repeatedly seeing one person), or they can’t agree on rules (posting a profile online, staying overnight, bringing someone home, no kissing). ...

Educate yourself

...“I see dozens of couples a year who come to therapy to try and negotiate their expectations in advance,” said Kimberly Resnick Anderson, a sex therapist in Los Angeles. “Couples who do their homework ahead of time have a much better success rate than couples who jump right in without preparation.

“Even couples who prep responsibly are often surprised by their reactions to certain situations and need to renegotiate boundaries.”

In my professional experience, the couples who succeed at nonmonogamy often don’t require many rules at all, because they trust each other, prioritize the primary relationship and hold each other in mind throughout the process. ...

●  Couples therapists sometimes have skewed judgment against CNM because, notes sociologist Eli Sheff, the only people who come to therapists are the people with problems. Talk about selection bias. Did these therapists never get a whiff of statistics in their training? Or were they gazing out the window when the words sampling bias sailed over their heads?

And, some therapists have unexamined biases against any sex or relationship minority.  

Sheff examines this in Skewed Views of Consensual NonMonogamies in her Psychology Today blog The Polyamorists Next Door. "Talking only with people in crisis can cast all CNM as a disaster." 

● Meanwhile, YouGov did another poll of public attitudes: How many Americans prefer non-monogamy in relationships? (Feb. 21). Three takeaways:

55% of American adults now say their ideal relationship is completely monogamous, compared to 61% when asked the same question in 2016. 

Among younger adults age 18 to 44, the "completely monogamous" preference among women and men is now only 46% and 35%, respectively. 

 Most of all: When adults 18 to 44 were asked if they personally disapprove or approve of "polyamory" and "throuple relationships," men were evenly split concerning both, while women disapproved by a margin of about 15%. Those numbers are better than they used to be.

Go have a look at some graphs broken down by age and gender. The full results with crosstabs. Media will be citing this data for some years to come. 

●  An example of why those numbers are changing: in the mass-market Women's Day, 'What non-monogamy taught me about female sexual desire' (Feb. 23)

By Emily Lavinia

...It seems that we're reaching a more mature understanding of the ways in which healthy relationships and sexual encounters between consenting adults can configure in non-traditional ways, with more people – including myself – openly discussing being happier outside of the constrains of your textbook romantic arrangement. ...

Women are more attracted to sexual variety than men are. ...

In the past ten years a number of studies on human desire have shown that women are more attracted to sexual variety than men are. ... Psychotherapist Esther Perel suggests that women get bored with monogamy faster than men do, not with intimate relationships in general.

Dr Wednesday Martin, a cultural critic with a PhD in anthropology and the author of Untrue: Everything We Believe About Women, Lust and Infidelity is Wrong and How The New Science Can Set Us Free, [says] ,,, ''The ample data showing that women tend to have a drop of desire in years one to four in an exclusive, cohabiting relationship, while men's desire tapers much more slowly, strongly suggest that monogamy is a tighter shoe for women, not men.

...'The worldwide ethnographic data demonstrate that we evolved as extremely flexible social and sexual strategists.,'

...Essentially, the overriding cultural script that men are more sexual creatures who are more likely to desire multiple partners and sexual experiences may stem from it simply being safer for men to do as they please when expressing their sexuality. Which in many societies, is still the case.

...'We don’t have to identify as fully monogamous or non monogamous all the time'....

Is the future monogamish?

...'Non-monogamy will never replace monogamy entirely,' says [UK poly activist] Leanne [Yau]. She caveats, though, that see sees a future in which this way of being in relationships is seen as being on a par with monogamy. 'The variety, the novelty, the ability to customise your relationships and communicate more with your partner about where the boundaries are – there’s a lot more flexibility. That’s why it’s becoming more common,' she notes.

'And I think people are becoming more sexually open, becoming more honest about their desires and more importantly, when their desires don’t match up and how to meet their partner’s needs.'

...At the crux of this all is: Non-monogamy has taught me and many other women I've spoken to that how we frame our desire, how we talk about it, and how far our sexuality is used to shame us into behaving in ways that don't come organically, is what’s important. ...

●  Ethical non-monogamy lands with different communities different ways. The Benefits and Challenges of Black Polyamory (StayontheGO, Feb. 25)

...There is a growing community of black people who practice polyamory, and they face unique benefits and challenges as they navigate this alternative form of relationship.

...Many black people have experienced relational trauma and disconnection due to systemic oppression, and polyamory can provide a space for healing and connection that may not be possible in more traditional monogamous relationships. Polyamory also allows for greater exploration and expression of sexual and romantic desires, which can be empowering for individuals who may have felt limited or constrained by societal expectations.

However... one of the most prominent challenges is the lack of representation and visibility of black polyamorous people in mainstream media and culture. This can lead to feelings of isolation and erasure, and can make it difficult for black polyamorous people to find community and support. Additionally, black polyamorous people may face discrimination and stigma from within their own communities, where traditional monogamy is often seen as the norm. ...

●  What Monogamy Misses (Yes! magazine, Feb. 27) 

Dania Wright / Yes!

Expanding our kinship networks can enrich our lives.

By Jenn M. Jackson

...This was the first moment I realized monogamy and the nuclear family weren’t for me; they were containers that often required that I deny my own desires to prioritize a romantic partner’s feelings and needs. 

...In the last century, the nuclear family has become deeply unstable in the United States. Property ownership has been mired in redlining, predatory lending, and other white supremacist and anti-Black systems of exploitation and exclusion. Sustaining large families on one income has become untenable.... The reality is the nuclear family is now a minority.

In this moment, we are called to reimagine what the family might be and embrace the possibilities before us when we release ourselves from the culture of monogamy enforced by patriarchy and capitalism.

I rely on Black queer feminist models of community and kinship to determine how I will raise my children and build community around them. As bell hooks writes in All About Love: New Visions, “Capitalism and patriarchy together, as structures of domination, have worked overtime to undermine and destroy this larger unit of extended kin.”

Rather than participate in these dominant, restrictive familial models, I have chosen an expansive model for my children. I’m polyamorous, meaning I love many people simultaneously and don’t reserve romantic love for a single person. As a lesbian who is deeply embedded in the queer networks around me, I also curate an environment wherein “chosen family,” rather than blood relatives, plays a primary role in rearing and guiding my children. This means that my children have an extended community of elders and parental figures invested in their guidance, care, and development, even when my parental bandwidth is minimal. ...

Olesia Bilkei / Shutterstock

By J Mikka Luster 

...We're more than two, so we have more adult supervision if needed. Moreover, we have an option for date nights almost any time we wish, in almost any configuration you could imagine.

Date night doesn't always have to be fancy; just being able to sit down and have an after-work glass of wine and a chat while someone else takes the kids to bed is a balm for the soul.

On the other hand, parenting in a polyamorous family means managing more parenting styles.

We have to arrange a lot more (thanks, Google Calendar), and communicate more to be on the same side of everything when it comes to educating, safeguarding, and parenting them.

The kids love it. There's always someone who will play with them, always someone to ask for help, always someone to explain things.

Since we all have our distinct circle of friends, too, and those people like to come by a lot with their kids, it's never boring in the lodge.

Tonight (it's 9 PM here), I bathed them (my fault; I let them help me make cookies, they looked like a gingerbread nightmare movie) while the ladies played Guild Wars 2 together and got dinner ready.

While we ate (and shared stories; it's the best time of the day for me), we divided up the chores for the week (I got slapped with an extra "remove all cookie dough from various sites in the house") one, and later one will go on a date while we're doing laundry.

We're a normal, happy, slightly more social family. 

The thing about us is that we didn't start into this polysyllabic world of high-brow poly pod parenting.

We just let it happen, working with the kids to not feel different (and if they did to see it as an amazing thing), and our circle of friends and the kids' school friends see it as a good thing, largely because they see how happy the kids are.

Our teacher asked us a few weeks in about the whole setup. We explained it as gently as we could.

She asked if she could come by and see it (we're not the first poly family in the school, but the others seemed to be worried to be judged and might have construed it as a veiled welfare check), and we let her.

When she came over, I was in the middle of building a life-sized Angry Birds level in the dining room, one partner was working from home, and the other one was in the basement hanging laundry.

She stuck around until after dinner, left, and has since had nothing but good things to say about our form of parenting (always prefixed by "I couldn't do this, this wouldn't work for me, but...").

●  In the New Zealand Herald, a long feature article: The truth about life in a throuple: ‘You can love more than one person’ (March 4)

"Laura, Nicky and their friend Janny on a hike."

By Katie Harris

I’ve had a few burning questions since my sister brought her two girlfriends home to meet the family in Christchurch several years ago.

Do you get jealous? How did you meet, and who’s in charge of killing the spiders? The basics, really.

But prior to interviewing Laura about her five-year three-way relationship, there is just one seemingly trivial tidbit I am dying to know.

“Literally at work people are like, ‘I don’t care about your relationship, I just want to know what size bed you have’,” she says.

The answer is a king, if you’re wondering.

But in the early days, they made do with a double, synchronising when to roll over in the night.

Coming of age in a relatively hetero-normative Christian environment and attending a religious school, Laura followed the same path of committed monogamy paved by generations before her.

...Then she started dating women.

...Befriending her now-girlfriends, who were already in a relationship with each other, [working] in a West Coast hospital ward changed everything.

“When I met them I liked them both, and I was like, ‘This is different, what does that mean?’

...Their relationship and lifestyle in Bay of Plenty, in a tiny home complete with a dog, several chickens and work in the medical field, sits outside what people usually think of when it comes to polyamory.

They’re not a married couple looking to spice things up with a relationship on the side, a person dating multiple partners, or a man with two committed girlfriends. ...

...In hindsight, Laura believes her throuple could have done things better when they first began dating, and says it has taken them five years to “do it well”.

“I’ve heard being in a throuple is like level 100 of polyamory, and you should not start there.”...

●  This one is as superficial as you might expect in a magazine called Glam that cranks out content by the truckload, but at least its last two paragraphs were worth putting in front of the public: Polycule: Your Guide To The Non-Monogamous Relationship Structure (March 9)

...If you're fortunate enough to find your way into a polycule there are two major rules to keep in mind: communication and respect. While most open and polyamorous relationships have their own set of rules, these two components are essential for all relationships, especially ones where there's more than just two people. ...You can't force people to feel certain ways about others, so don't think you can move everyone around like chess pieces to fit your polycule. We're talking about human beings with feelings, complex emotions, and mental and physical needs, so don't ever lose sight of that. 

...It can't be stated enough that these types of romantic and sexual relationships aren't a fit for everyone. Don't rush into a polycule because it seems like the trendy thing to do. Instead, consider what the relationships mean to you and what you can bring to the relationships. ...

I guess that story performed well click-wise, because Glam just followed it up with What Is A Vee Relationship Structure In Polyamory, And Will It Work For You? (March 20), then Relationship Anarchy: What is it and is it for you? (March 24), then another, Tips For Introducing Polyamory Into Your Life And Starting A Relationship (March 27).

●  And lastly, in several British tabloids and picked up by Queerty, Trio of millionaire lottery winners credit their luck to the karmic power of their throuple (Feb. 27). They're in southern California. 

@thrupples on Instagram

Last year, partners Claire Thornhill and Katy Rupple hit big off a $100 bet. Naturally, they decided to share the winnings with the man who’d given them the $100 gift in the first place: their other partner, comedian/voice actor Justin Rupple (How to Train Your Dragon 2, Spiderman: Homecoming).

...In Claire’s Instagram bio, she describes herself as “polymagical”. It’s the same poly magic that the triad credits for their $1.4 million lotto win.

“We like to think of the jackpot money as a little bit of a karmic gift for opening up to the world, and believing in ourselves and our relationship,” Claire explains.

...The same hand of fate that brought them prosperity with last year’s big win is seemingly what brought them together in the first place.

“After we discussed with each other how much we wanted to spend our lives with each other we knew we had to tell our families immediately,” they recall. “We had acceptance from all of our families.”

Apparently, the only nudge needed towards acceptance is often just to see this trio in action.

...“We just work better and thrive as a throuple.”

...“We truly all get along very well. It’s like a triangle where each one of us has a strength, and we lean towards that strength,” they said. According to the Daily Star, “Katy is the coordinator, Claire the scheduler, and Justin is the facilitator.”...

UPCOMING POLYCONS.  The annual cycle of polyamory conventions, retreats, campouts, and other gatherings is opening up again, tentatively, as the pandemic seems to be receding. At least three are set for April and May:

–  Poly Big Fun retreat, April 6–9, in Bastrop State Park near Austin, TX
–  Southwest Love Fest, April 14–16, Tucson, AZ
–  The ever poly-friendly New Culture Spring Camp, May 5–10, Abrams Creek Retreat Center, Mt. Storm, WV.

Summer has more. See Alan's List of Polyamory Events for all such gatherings on the calendar for the next 12 months. All that I know about, anyway! Tell me about any I'm missing: alan7388 (at) gmail.com .



Why have I been ending posts to this polyamory news site with Ukraine?

Because I've seen many progressive movements die out because they failed 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 powerful people call us a threat to society — because by living successfully outside of 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.

Russian cartoon character Masyanya proudly holding a Ukraine flag
The Russian family-cartoon series Masyanya
turned dissident. Watch. The cartoonist got out.
Update: a sequel of turnabout, with a
coda of empathy in wartime. 
Such a society is possible only where people have power to govern themselves, combined with legal structures that are at least supposed to guarantee the rights of all.

Innovative 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 — now with direct mutual support.

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

For what it's worth, this site received more pagereads from pre-war 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 vetted 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 (story).

But that is only the start. For those of us born since World War II, we are witnessing the most consequential war of our lifetimes. Because we have entered another time when calculating fascism, at home and abroad, is rising and sees freedom and liberalism and social tolerance as weak, degenerate, delusional  inviting easy pushovers. As Russia thought it saw in Ukraine.

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

Need a little help bucking up? Play thisAnother version, on the streets of Kherson the night after its liberation. 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 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 are 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. It's likely 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.


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 it has quite the history of being run by corrupt oligarchs — leading to 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. (More.)

Now, writes US war correspondent George Packer in The Atlantic, 

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 trusthromada. Learn that word. It's getting them through as well as they've been able. We polyfolks often dream of creating something like that  community spirit in miniature, in our polycules and networks. Occasionally we succeed.

Social attitudes in Ukraine tend traditional, rooted in a thousand years of the Orthodox Church, 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. The status of women is fast advancing, especially since the start of the war (pre-war article). A reported 57,000 women volunteer in the armed forces, flooding traditionally male bastions, including as combat officers, platoon leadersartillery gunners, tankers, and snipers. (Intimidating video: "This The Witch Has Said".) Some LGBT folx in the armed forces display symbols of LGBT pride on their uniforms, whereas in Russia it's a prison-worthy crime for even a civilian to show a rainbow pin or "say gay." More on Ukraine's current LGBT+ and feminist acceptance revolutions

And in November 2022, Russia made it a crime not just to speak for LGBT recognition, but to speak for "non-traditional sexual relations." Until recently Russia had a polyamory education and awareness movement.

Polyfolks are like one ten-thousandth of what's at stake globally. Ukraine must have our continued material support for as long as it takes. Speak up for it.

"Defenders of Bakhmut": painting of a woman soldier under fire in a trench holding up a Ukraine flag
"Defenders of Bakhmut," by Natasha Le from Mikolaiv. She reinterprets traditional guardian angels as riot grrls for an upcoming generation.

PS: A real-life version of that icon in Bakhmut; the artwork isn't just fantasy.  Vidma ("Witch") commands a mortar platoon there; vid from Jan. 3. In February they were rotated out and she recorded this (Feb. 21):

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