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Judge Offers Possible Legal Recognition of Polyamory

Two gay men in an apartment

Two men are claiming partnerships with a third who's now dead -- and the man whose claim is being questioned should have a chance to prove it, the New York City judge ruled.

In a decision that recognizes the possibility of polyamorous relationships, a New York City judge has ruled in a tenancy case that it's possible for two men to both claim partnerships with a third man -- and that the man whose relationship is being questioned should have a chance to prove his claim in court.

A landlord is seeking to evict Markyus O'Neill, who had occupied a rent-stabilized apartment with Scott Anderson beginning in 2012, Gay City News reports. Anderson died in October 2021, and his lease expired at the end of the year. O'Neill said he had a "familial" relationship with Anderson, entitling him to stay in the apartment as if he were Anderson's legal spouse, as permitted by city regulations.

But another man, Robert Romano, said he was Anderson's life partner, even though they did not live together, according to evidence presented by landlord, West 49th Street LLC. Romano wrote in an affidavit that he and Anderson were "an exclusive couple" in a partnership of 25 years. O'Neill did not have any formal documentation of his relationship with Anderson, but he said they were very close and that he helped pay their expenses.

Based on the affidavits presented by each man, Housing Court Judge Karen May Bacdayan wrote that it appears Anderson "loved both of them in different ways." In her September 23 ruling, Bacdayan declined to issue summary judgment -- that is, a decision without a full trial -- for either O'Neill or West 49th Street, and said O'Neill is entitled to a full hearing of his claim.

Related: Queer Lawmaker Liliana Bakhtiari Comes Out as Nonmonogamous

She cited a 1989 New York Court of Appeals decision, Braschi v. Stahl Associates Company, which was "the first appellate decision in the United States to recognize that a same-sex couple living together could be considered a family, as it was later formalized in new regulations by the Division of Housing and Community Renewal and the legislature," Gay City News notes.

"What was 'normal' or 'nontraditional' in 1989 is not a barometer for what is normal or nontraditional now," Bacdayan wrote. She asked, "Should a person who would not meet the requirements for succession to a rent-stabilized apartment after Braschi was decided in 1989, now, 33 years later, be evicted when they may qualify, as was concluded in Braschi, under a more inclusive interpretation of a family?"

Romano can't claim succession on the lease, as that is limited to someone who occupied the apartment. But if, after the trial, it is ruled that he was Anderson's only partner, O'Neill will be evicted. However, if the ruling recognizes O'Neill as a partner of Anderson, he could win the right to stay in the apartment. "But the case can't be decided as a matter of law on the proposition that a person can have only one family-like partner at a time," according to Gay City News.

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