Most of the information in this blogpost was obtained from a webinar that was recorded in October 2022. You can watch the webinar here. You can also hear about legal breakthroughs from the Multiamory podcast episode 425.
There have been some exciting legal developments for nonmonogamous relationships! These advancements mean more freedom and recognition for people in those unions, so they can enjoy life with the same rights and protection as those in monogamous relationships. Here’s hoping this encourages more individuals to embrace the relationships that works best for them.
Not So Equal Protection
Nonmonogamous partnerships often face legal discrimination in that they are not allowed to marry more than one person, but this is just the tip of the iceberg. We need to be aware that traditional nuclear family models can limit people in a wide range of ways. For example, those who are monogamously married have access to over 1000 legal protections that aren’t granted to unmarried people. These include multiple estate planning benefits, joint tax filing, social security, medicare and disability benefits, sharing insurance plans through the workplace, family medical leave, bereavement leave, and numerous child custody considerations and benefits.
Many individuals don’t realize the challenges they face being unmarried until it becomes an issue. Getting legal protection for nonmonogamous committed relationships is a step towards granting rights and recognition to nontraditional, nonheterosexual, and nondisabled families. This enables these relationships to operate properly and in a way that benefits both them and their communities.
What is “Nontraditional” Anyways?
Who else counts as nontraditional families? Immigrant families, polyamorous families, life partners, adult children living with their parents, disabled adults not getting married, three adults raising children, blended families, fraternities and sororities — all of these count. Soaring housing prices mean many more people are living together in a family-like situation. And expecting people to be married to grant them protection is discriminatory – 57% of white adults are married whereas 33% of black adults are. In fact, less than half of US kids live with two heterosexual married parents – nuclear families aren’t even the majority! Yet that’s what our family law is based on…
The Discrimination Faced By Nontraditional Families
Isn’t it strange to think that it is illegal to discriminate against individuals’ religion, disability, gender, or sexual orientation – but it’s totally okay to fire them for being in a multi-partner relationship, single, or divorced. That’s why the Harvard Law School LGBTQ+ Advocacy Clinic is trying to pass Nondiscrimination Ordinances that protect people from employment discrimination based on relationship status. Sadly, a lot of queer people excluded polyamorous people in an attempt to gain legal and social acceptance while fighting for marriage rights – but by incorporating these ordinances we’re able to undo some of the damage done.
Nonmonogamous relationships have historically faced discrimination from both society and the law. However, recent legal breakthroughs are starting to recognize the legitimacy of such intimate relationships, and their need for shared relationship benefits, protection and support.
The Legal Protections Needed
We can often find ourselves questioning who is entitled to receive the care and support they need. Let’s face it, it’s easy to pass judgment when it doesn’t impact you or your loved ones. Do we ever feel frustrated though, when loved ones who are outside of a typical romantic relationship don’t get the same recognition. Is it fair that you can marry someone 5 minutes after meeting them in Vegas, and they automatically qualify for insurance, while a friend you’ve raised children with for 15 years doesn’t have the same access? We should actively seek to recognize connections beyond the traditional as they are just as meaningful and real.
Despite the fact that many individuals in nonmonogamous partnership may be committed to each other and rely on each other for support and companionship, they are often denied legal benefits that are reserved for those in traditional monogamous relationships. The government should not be in the business of determining who deserves benefits based on their relationship status. Everyone, regardless of their romantic partners, relationship status, or lifestyle choice, should have access to the same legal protections.
Progress for Polyamorous Relationships
Massachusetts is leading the way in recognizing the importance of chosen family. Three cities within the state – Somerville (2020), Arlington (2021) and Cambridge (2021) – are now allowing multi-partner domestic relationships to be registered. Getting a domestic relationship registered actually requires higher standards than getting married! The joint statement needs to prove that all participants:
1. Are in a mutually supportive, caring and committed relationship
2. Aren’t related by blood closer than would bar marriage in Massachusetts
3. Are competent to contract
4. And consider themselves part of a family unit.
If changes ever need to be made to the register, like adding or removing a partner, then every person on it must sign an affidavit verifying this alteration.
So, what does this get you? In the city of Cambridge, these rights include visiting a hospital and correctional facilities. Plus, you can handle childcare duties at public schools in the city. However many of these rights are recognized only in the cities with these provisions on the books. Some of these rights could also be helpful when dealing with some larger matters – like crossing international borders or getting health insurance from an employer.
Recently in New York State, it was ruled that you could pass on your rent control to a polyamorous partner. This used the domestic partnership ordinances passed in Massachusetts as support, recognizing that nonmonogamy is a valid relationship structure that should be respected.
We’ve just started to take on this challenge and we could soon see more areas follow Massachusetts’ example of legalizing multiparty domestic partnerships. People are even taking court action to lobby for the change, so there’s plenty of hope that this battle is slowly being won.
The Challenges Ahead
The societal perception of nonmonogamous partnerships has evolved over the years, but the legalization of such relationships is still a complex and divisive issue. Although some countries have recognized same-sex marriages, legalizing nonmonogamous relationships presents unique challenges for many reasons. Many argue that it violates traditional values and goes against the sanctity of marriage. Others contend that individuals should have the freedom to choose their relationship structure without fear of persecution. In addition to legal hurdles, nonmonogamous relationships also face social stigmatization and cultural prejudices, hampering progress towards legalization. Despite these challenges, proponents of nonmonogamy continue to fight for equality and recognition in the eyes of the law.
Nonmonogamous relationships have been on the rise in recent years, with more and more people choosing to explore alternative relationship models. However, the law has been slow to catch up, leaving many individuals in nontraditional unions without legal protections. As a result, couples and families in polyamorous relationships may find themselves navigating complex legal issues, such as custody battles and property disputes, without the same protections afforded to those in traditional relationships. As society continues to evolve and embrace diverse relationship structures, it is important that the legal system also evolves to provide equal protections and rights for all.
Despite the recent legal breakthroughs for polyamorous people, the societal stigma that surrounds them is still a significant barrier that needs to be overcome. Although the acceptance of nontraditional relationships is growing, many people still question the validity and legitimacy of these types of relationships. This stigma makes it challenging for nonmonogamous individuals to gain political support and legal protections. However, the progress made in recent years is optimistic, and there is hope that continued efforts will lead to a more inclusive and accepting society for all forms of relationships.
Advocates for nonmonogamous relationships will need to overcome these challenges through education and advocacy to create a more tolerant and inclusive society for all types of romantic relationships. However, with a growing community of individuals who identify as nonmonogamous, the push towards legal recognition of nonmonogamy is gaining momentum.
Discrimination against consensually nonmonogamous relationships is unjust and unfair. Benefits and legal protections should be available to all without discrimination. As society continues to evolve and understand the nature of nonmonogamous relationships, it is important for the law to recognize the diversity of families, unions, and lifestyles and provide the necessary protections to support them.