Somerville in Massachusetts has introduced a new domestic partnership policy that recognizes both polyamorous and platonic relationships.
The legislation was passed by a unanimous vote of the City Council last week and signed into law by Mayor Joseph Curtatone on Monday.
The President of the council that passed the legislation says the current coronavirus pandemic has made some people think again about what constitutes a domestic partnership, including who should be covered on someone’s health insurance or allowed hospital visitation rights.
Councilor Lance Davis introduced the legislation last week. He told the Boston Globe, “I don’t feel it’s the place of government to define a family.”
Domestic partnerships ordinance were previously adopted by several Massachusetts cities before the introduction of same-sex marriage in the state in 2004. However, this is the first time Somerville has had such an ordinance.
Davis said the wording of the ordinance was prepared but he ran it past some other people for feedback before introducing it for voting.
“The ordinance was ready to go, but it just didn’t feel right to me. I wanted more input,” he told the Globe.
Another councilor, J.T Scott, pointed out that the policy defined a relationship as being between two people only. After further discussion, the language was amended to be more inclusive of other relationships – both romantic and platonic.
Scott told the New York Times, “People have been living in families that include more than two adults forever. 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.”
“This is simply allowing that change, allowing people to say, ‘This is my partner and this is my other partner,’” Scott said. “It has a legal bearing, so when one of them is sick, they can both go to the hospital.”
The ordinance allows those in a registered partnership the right to confer health insurance benefits or make hospital visits. Those employed by the city will be covered by it. However, it remains to be seen how insurance companies and private employers react to the ordinance.
The President of Somerville city council, Matthew McLaughlin, told The NY Times, the need to introduce a domestic partnership policy had become a pressing concern during the current coronavirus pandemic because of the issue of accessing a partner’s healthcare insurance.
The city is believed to be the first in the US to recognize relationships that have more than two people in such a way.
Andy Izenson, a lawyer with the Chosen Family Law Center, speculated to the New York Times the ordinance will either be met with resistance from conservatives and insurance companies, or may “fly under the radar.”
“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,” Izenson said, “that’s how things spread.”
Davis says since the ordinance was passed, he’s had nothing but positive feedback from people about it.
“I got an e-mail from someone at my church that said, ‘Wow, this is amazing. Thank you so much for doing this,’” he told the Globe.