Three interlocking wedding rings. Modern marriage? Bigamy?

LGBTQ activists worked tirelessly for decades to help the majority of the country realize that, yes, their neighborhoods would indeed be okay if families with two moms or two dads moved in down the street.

A big part of those efforts was arguing that government recognition of same-sex marriages was essential because of the many legal benefits reserved for traditional man-and-woman marriages. It was a question of fairness.

Nuclear families with children and same-sex parents are now as American as apple pie. But at the heart of that picture is still a couple — two people.

New Law Makes Room for More in the House

Now, the first state to legalize same-sex marriage will also be the first state to have a municipality recognizing families with more than two partners.

The city council of Somerville, Massachusetts, voted late last month to recognize polyamorous domestic partnerships, granting these groups the same rights as married couples. That includes the right to extend health insurance benefits to multiple partners, to own property together, and to allow hospital visitation.

The ordinance allows “people to say, ‘This is my partner and this is my other partner,'” said City Councilor J.T. Scott. “It has a legal bearing, so when one of them is sick, they can both go to the hospital.”

Who Does the Law Cover?

For now, the ordinance applies to city employees in Somerville for the purpose of sharing health benefits, and there is no indication what any private employers in the town intend to do. Other benefits, such as hospital visitation, would extend to all residents.

City council members describe a need to create a domestic partnership ordinance for the town due to the COVID-19 pandemic. They said it was necessary to allow partners to extend health benefits to each other in this time of massive unemployment and high emergency health spending.

After an early draft of the ordinance defined a domestic partnership as “an entity formed by two persons,” it was amended to state that a domestic partnership is simply “an entity formed by people.”

City Councilor Lance Davis said there is no size restriction on polyamorous groups entering into a domestic partnership.

The law also allows non-romantic partners to form a partnership, even if there are only two of them.

What Now?

It’s important to point out what this ordinance recognizes and doesn’t recognize. This ordinance does not legalize polygamy, or marriages involving more than two people. Polygamy is still illegal across the United States.

Federal law also does not recognize domestic partnerships, which means you and your partner(s) would need to individually file your federal tax returns.

Massachusetts law also does not allow domestic partners to inherit property when their partner dies. There will also be questions about pension benefits and many other issues. If you are thinking of creating a domestic partnership, it is still smart to speak with an attorney so that you have a good idea of what your partnership will and won’t cover.

But the first big domino to fall in the same-sex marriage battle started with the Massachusetts Supreme Court. Could more towns in The Bay State, or even the state government, pick up the ball from Somerville in expanding the meaning of “family?” It could happen.

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