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….