Massachusetts City Now Legally Recognizes Polyamorous Families

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Somerville, a city within Massachusetts, recently recognized polyamorous groups within the domestic partnership ordinance that was approved in early July. This decision, believed to be one of the first of its kind, comes after many families experienced issues with accessing the health insurance of one of their partners or making life care decisions when loved ones were admitted to the hospital amid the pandemic.

Until about a month ago, Somerville had no domestic partnership ordinance. Other Massachusetts cities like Boston and Cambridge had ordinances in place allowing partners who may not be married or cohabitating to retain some of the rights allowed to married couples. In Somerville when the domestic partnership ordinance was considered, city council members also suggested that their domestic partnership ordinance should include partnerships of more than two people.

This comes as many states begin to reassess their partnership laws in relation to the global coronavirus pandemic. As more and more infections are reported, and hospitals struggle to cope with the surge in demand for medical attention, lawmakers are generating the policy to allow loved ones who classify as family into hospitals, even if they are not legally married.

What are Domestic Partnership Ordinances?

While marriage can allow a couple the ability to share health insurance, own a home, share assets, as well as exercise other rights, domestic partnerships are not always allowed the same protections. This can be a battle in many family law cases.

“In many states, a domestic partnership is seen as a relationship between two individuals who live together and share a common domestic life but may not necessarily be married to each other,” explains attorney Heather O’Connor of the O’Connor Family Law. “Under domestic partnership laws, also known as civil unions or civil partnerships, these couples receive benefits like rights of survivorship, hospital visitation, and other legal protections that are normally guaranteed through marriage.”

Under the domestic partnership ordinance approved in Somerville, those in a relationship who do not wish to marry could own a house together, share health insurance benefits, and be permitted in hospital visitations. The relationships are also not limited to a two-partner couple, but rather the legislation allows multiple partners the rights allotted under the domestic partnership ordinance.

What Somerville’s Decision Could Mean for Families

Somerville’s decision is seen as a step in the right direction for the many families that consist of more than two adults. The domestic partnership ordinance approved by the mayor of Somerville will move the city toward a more comprehensive legal understanding of what a family is by acknowledging the many diverse lifestyles individuals choose.

Some hope that this policy will be adopted by other cities and states to further extend the rights of all types of families. While there is the argument that laws or ordinances like this will damage the integrity of other more traditional family styles, many lawmakers understand that it’s not the government’s place to tell people what is or is not a family, but rather create legal pathways for any family to have equal rights under the law. For family law attorneys, this is a step in the right direction to recognizing the diverse and fluid family styles that already exist in much of the country.

As the city comes under national attention for this decision, some are curious if the ordinance will hold up to the opinions of health insurance companies who may not recognize the expansive definition of what a domestic partnership is under Somerville law. There may be additional issues of this law holding up in other states or legal jurisdictions.

Moving Forward

Somerville is following in the progressive footsteps of Massachusetts, the first US state to legalize same-sex marriage in 2004. While the new domestic partnership ordinance may take time to influence surrounding cities, city council members say that the reactions they have seen have primarily been positive.

As the law begins to go into effect, many anticipate other states to follow suit. With an ever-changing landscape, particularly with the coronavirus pandemic, many lawmakers are beginning to create legislation that acknowledges various situations for all types of families.