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Cambridge, MA Passes Polyamorous Domestic Partnership Ordinance

Remember, on the podcast, we were talking about how Cambridge was working on changes to its domestic partnership ordinance to make it more friendly to polyamorous families? Well, Monday night, March 8, 2021, they passed in the Cambridge City Council Meeting!

This effort was spearheaded by the recently formed Polyamory Legal Advocacy Coalition (PLAC), who additionally drafted sample legislation to assist cities in establishing their own multi-partner domestic partnership ordinances and non-discrimination ordinances to protect polyamorous families and individuals.

I spoke with Kimberly Rhoten, Esq. of PLAC, who said, "Consensual non-monogamy is not uncommon, both in the US as well as across the globe. Amassing at least 5% of the US population, CNM is as large as the LGBTQ population combined. Legal and social reform is urgently needed to protect these folks, their relationships, and their families." Mx. Rhoten and I had a great conversation about the ways that Cambridge's amendments made great strides forward in terms of how to do this.

Beginning with the simple amendment of adding “or more” after “two,” Cambridge makes several changes which taken together cover a great number of important factors for polyamorous people. First, they include us to begin with in the option for a domestic partnership, both by allowing more than two people, and by striking the requirement that one be unmarried before entering a domestic partnership (so if you are already married but want to also protect the status of your other partners, you can!). Second, they remove an entire section of additional requirements above and beyond the requirements married people are obliged to present from the statute - which, if you listened to the podcast, addresses some of Ken's and my “civil unions are bullshit” concerns - leaving only a filing statement in which the folks joining a domestic partnership must assert that they consider themselves to be a family. And by not automatically terminating a civil union when one person leaves and requiring a waiting period before re-filing, there’s no chance of leaving the remaining partners in the lurch.

By no longer requiring a single address (something marriages have never been required to prove), polycules that include people who need their space or have leases they want to run out or can’t find a big enough house or who aren’t ready to be all the way out to everyone but want rights regarding one another based on their relationship can get them. Because, of course, what matters most here isn’t what changed about the law but what stayed exactly the same: the rights of domestic partners under Cambridge’s ordinance. Here are the Big Examples:

“Persons who have registered their domestic partnership at the office of the City Clerk pursuant to Section 2.119.030 are entitled to the following rights:

A.1. A domestic partner shall have the same visitation rights as a spouse or parent of a patient at the Cambridge City Hospital and all other health care facilities in the City. A dependent shall have the same visitation rights as a patient's child. …

B.1.A domestic partner shall have the same visitation rights at all correctional facilities in Cambridge as a spouse or parent of a person in custody. A dependent shall have the same visitation rights afforded to the child of a person in custody. …

C. 1. A domestic partner, who is also the parent or legal guardian of a child, may file a form at or send a letter to the child's school to indicate that the parent's domestic partner shall have access to the child's records, access to school personnel in matters concerning the child, and access to the child, including the right to remove such child from the school for sickness or family emergency. The school shall afford such person access as directed by the child's parent.”

2.119.070 - Employment benefits.

A. The City and School Department shall provide the same health and other employment fringe benefits to employees with domestic partners as to employees with spouses. As used in this chapter, "employees" refers to active and retired employees of the City and the Cambridge School Department eligible for benefits pursuant to state or municipal law, employment policies or collective bargaining agreements. ...

C. The City and School Department shall provide medical insurance coverage to an employee's domestic partner as it does to an employee's spouse, and to the dependent(s) of an employees's domestic partnership as it does to an employee's child(ren). An employee may opt to decline medical insurance coverage for her or his domestic partner, without foregoing the right to obtain medical insurance coverage for her or his domestic partner at a later date….

F. Employees shall be granted a leave of absence, with pay, for the death of a domestic partner or family member of a domestic partner to the same extent as for a spouse or family member of a spouse. Use of the term "in-law" in employee handbooks shall include the relatives of a domestic partner."

If you didn’t read all of that because it’s a wall of text (and there’s more, I left ellipses places! Those are the highlights)… It’s that even though the city doesn’t require all other employers or insurance companies to provide you insurance unless they want to or do anyway, if you work for them or their schools, they will. They’ll act without prejudice by law and they’ll be required to give you time off for any and all partners’ health emergencies and cover your partners’ health insurance. And your partners will get the right to visit you in medical emergencies in town, and won’t be allowed to be treated badly for wanted to come along to parent-teacher night as well and will be entitled to getting a copy of paperwork about kids you’re raising together, regardless of who had them amongst you. If something terrible happens and one of you ends up in prison, any of you can visit as spouses do. That’s a REALLY BIG DEAL.

I think some of these things are things we all take for granted- but as someone who has had medical emergencies with and without supportive people there, it’s a really big deal to make sure we guarantee medical visitation. The city and public schools providing insurance for multipartner families and giving an example of nondiscrimination as a large employer is great modeling. This law is a really good step forward, even if it covers a small geographic region.

Honestly, just in and of itself, more than two partners and no bar on marriage within a domestic partnership is a huge step forward for polyamorous people. Getting folks on board and over those hurdles for legal protections for this group, which recent studies show is a bit bigger than the population of LGBTQ people, is really important. (I think you agree if you're here on my blog reading.) So, hopefully, Cambridge becomes the second of many cities to take similar steps to amend domestic partner ordinances in favor of the rights of polyamorous families.


I’ll be teaching my Beyond the Kitchen Table: Modes and Models of Parallel Polyamory class at Tethered to Wifi 2.0, the digital version of Tethered Together, on Saturday March 20 from 11:30am -1pm. The con as a whole runs from the 19-21 and you can get tickets at Tickets are $30 until sales close the day before the event. There are a lot of great presenters on topics ranging from relationships to movement to rope and a couple cool shows; come play with us!

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