The city of Somerville, Mass., near Boston, has approved a domestic-partnership ordinance that includes polyamorous relationships, believed to be the first in the nation.
The ordinance will allow registered domestic partners the right to visit one another in the hospital — a concern especially during the coronavirus pandemic — and city employees in polyamorous relationships or registered platonic relationships will be able to put all their partners on their health insurance policies, The New York Times reports. Whether private employers extend coverage to all partners in such relationships is up to them.
The City Council approved the ordinance unanimously June 25, and Mayor Joseph Curtatone signed it into law Monday, according to The Boston Globe.
Unlike other cities in the region, Somerville didn’t have a domestic-partnership law. Such measures were widespread, especially in liberal cities, as a way to recognize both same-sex and opposite-sex relationships before the arrival of nationwide marriage equality thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2015 ruling. In 2004, Massachusetts became the first state with legal marriage equality, as a ruling by its highest court from the previous year went into effect.
When Councilor Lance Davis was ready to introduce the ordinance last week, “it just didn’t feel right,” he told the Globe. He sought input from his colleagues, and Councilor J.T. Scott suggested it include relationships with more than two consenting adults, so Davis made that change.
Relationships recognized under the ordinance needn’t be romantic or sexual. “People have been living in families that include more than two adults forever,” Scott told the Times. “Here in Somerville, families sometimes look like one man and one woman, but sometimes it looks like two people everyone on the block thinks are sisters because they’ve lived together forever, or sometimes it’s an aunt and an uncle, or an aunt and two uncles, raising two kids.” Scott said he’s been receiving calls from people interested in working for such a law at the state and federal levels.
Davis said he has received nothing but positive feedback on the ordinance, the Globe reports. “I got an e-mail from someone at my church that said, ‘Wow, this is amazing. Thank you so much for doing this,’” he said.
But the law still could bring backlash from right-wing groups or from insurance companies that don’t want to cover more than one partner, the Times notes. It could also “fly under the radar,” Andy Izenson, a lawyer with the Chosen Family Law Center, which serves nontraditional families, told the paper.
“When one area does it, and it serves as a test case, and legislators see that the town or county has not had a culture war implosion, that’s how things spread,” he said.