Why polyamorous families need more legal rights

There are plenty of laws that protect heteronormative family structures, but polyamorous families need laws to recognise their partnerships and protect them from discrimination. 

Three women holding each other and smiling representing polyamorous families
Image: Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

There are plenty of laws in place that prioritise and protect heteronormative family structures, but our legal system and social structures often neglect that polyamorous relationships exist.

Slogans like “love is love” resonate with the straight community because they imply that queer relationships are exactly like straight ones, but queer relationships often defy social structures. This is especially true for non-monogamous relationships and polyamorous families.

The Polyamory Legal Advocacy Coalition defines polyamory as a form of non-monogamy involving more than two adult partners at the same time, with the knowledge and consent of everyone involved. The organisation estimates that roughly 5% of people in the US are in consensual non-monogamous relationships. These relationships may be romantic, sexual or platonic.

Andy Izenson, who provides legal support for non-traditional families, said, “The legal and cultural understanding of what a family is – heterosexual, cisgender married parents living with a child or children that are genetically related to them, and no one else – less than half of American kids live in a family that looks like that.”

For decades, LGBTQ+ people have had to advocate for equitable rights when it comes to marriage, parental guardianship and legal recognition. Polyamorous families require these protections as well.


In most developed countries, polyamorous relationships are legal, but there are no protections in place for health insurance, child custody or the choice to make medical decisions for their partners when necessary.

Even though research indicates that polyamorous family structures are healthy and beneficial, in many places, people involved in relationship anarchy and non-monogamous relationships face undue stress due to the stigma and prejudices. Polyamorous people often face discrimination when they are trying to get married, find housing or even talk openly about their families at work.

An important way to combat these stresses and ensure equality for all is to create laws and policies to protect polyamorous people when it comes to the workplace, housing, guardianship and the legal standing of these partnerships.

In 2020, Somerville, Massachusetts, became the first city in the United States to offer legal protections for people in polyamorous relationships and other nontraditional family structures. Since then, Cambridge, Massachusetts also passed ordinances for multi-partner domestic partnerships.

In a 2022 ruling, New York Judge Karen May Bacdayan declared that the same law that protects two-person relationships should also protect polyamorous relationships. Laws like this provide a sense of validation, recognition, and protection for polyamorous families.

While we still have a long way to go, the recent progress is encouraging.

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