Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office Rules Towns Can Recognize Polyamorous Relationships

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Can Massachusetts towns recognize polyamorous relationships and grant domestic partnership benefits to more than two people?

Yes, the Massachusetts Attorney General’s office says.

The Municipal Law Unit in Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey’s office ruled on the first-of-its-kind question on Thursday.

The Municipal Law Unit approved changes to the town bylaws approved in the town of Arlington on April 2021. Town Meeting members passed a warrant article that established domestic partnerships where more than two people can receive benefits from the town.

Arlington, a town of about 46,000 about 6 miles northwest of Boston, has a representative town meeting form of government. Town voters elect 252 residents of the town to represent them at Arlington Town Meeting, which functions as a sort of legislature for the town. This past April, members of representative town meeting overwhelmingly approved the town’s new domestic partnership bylaw, including an amendment to the original proposal that recognizes polyamory.

The domestic partnership bylaw passed with 221 members voting in favor of it and 11 members voting against it. The polyamory amendment passed with 192 members voting for it and 37 members voting against it.

The amended bylaw allows people to register a domestic partnership with the town of Arlington if they meet the following criteria:


(1) They have made a commitment of mutual support and caring for each other their domestic partners;

(2) They reside together and intend to do so indefinitely;

(3) They share basic living expenses;

(4) They are at least eighteen (18) years of age;

(5) They are competent to enter into a contract; and

(6) They are not married to anyone or related to each other by blood closer than would bar marriage in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.


The bylaw allows members of a polyamorous domestic partnership to have visitation rights at town-operated health care facilities and town-operated correctional facilities. Additionally, a child’s parent or legal guardian would be allowed to give a domestic partner access to a child’s school records as well as access to the child, including school dismissal.

The Municipal Law Unit said that everything Arlington did in the new domestic partnership bylaw is legal in the Commonwealth.

“Because the by-law’s limited scope does not conflict with the Constitution or laws of the Commonwealth, we approve it as we are required to do under the Attorney General’s scope of review of town by-laws,” the ruling from the Municipal Law Unit reads.

However, the Municipal Law Unit clarified that this ruling “does not in any way refer to, or result in a redefinition of, the ‘vital social institution of marriage.’ ” Marriage is still legal only between two people in the Commonwealth; polygamy is still illegal.

“Had the by-law attempted to authorize polygamy we would disapprove it based on a clear conflict with these common law and statutory provisions,” the Municipal Law Unit’s decision said.

Polygamy is commonly understood as being married to multiple spouses at the same time. Polyamory is a romantic relationship between three or more people.

The ruling says that the state’s definition of domestic partnership will not change, but that a town “has the Home Rule power to define ‘domestic partnership’ for the purpose of its own by-laws.”

The ruling makes Arlington the third Massachusetts community to officially recognize polyamorous relationships. Somerville became the first in July 2020; Cambridge became the second, in March 2021. Each is a city with a city council. Ordinances approved by a city council are not subject to review by the Attorney General’s office in Massachusetts. Chapter 40, Section 32 of Massachusetts General Laws exempts city by-laws from review by the Attorney General’s office. City ordinances can be challenged in court.

Commenting on the city ordinances on polyamory, the Municipal Law Unit said:  “We are not aware of any pending or successful legal challenges to the Somerville or Cambridge ordinances, or the local enactments in other jurisdictions.”

In Arlington, Precinct 3 Town Meeting member Amos Meeks, who has two domestic partners, proposed the polyamory amendment to the domestic partnership bylaw this past spring.

Meeks wasn’t the first person in Arlington town politics to propose this change, however.  One selectman who said he was once involved in a three-way domestic relationship first raised the possibility of officially recognizing polyamorous relationships during a public meeting in early June 2020, as NewBostonPost reported at the time.

Typically, the Attorney General’s office has 90 days to determine whether or not a town bylaw is constitutional in Massachusetts. However, the office granted itself several 30-day extensions to come up with a final ruling on the case. So instead of coming to a decision by late July, the Attorney General’s office made its decision in late December.

The Attorney General’s office did not respond to a request for further comment on the ruling when asked by NewBostonPost on Thursday or Friday this week. Attempts to reach all five members of Arlington Board of Selectmen were unsuccessful.

The entire decision on the Arlington by-law is available below:

MLU Polyamory Decision

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