Arlington Expands Benefits For Polyamorous Relationships

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Polyamorous relationships may soon be eligible for more benefits in Arlington, Massachusetts.

That’s because Article 11 passed at Arlington Town Meeting earlier this month, granting additional employee benefits to registered domestic partnerships of town employees. Those benefits include bereavement leave, sick leave, and parental leave, among others.

The town also dropped its requirements that members of a domestic partnership live together and share basic living expenses, as well as a requirement that no one in a domestic partnership is married to one another.

The article passed, 162-68, on Monday, May 2. It won’t go into effect immediately, however. The bylaw is subject to review by the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Municipal Law Unit. Typically, the state Attorney General’s office has 90 days to determine whether or not a town bylaw is constitutional in Massachusetts.

Supporters argued that the proposed bylaw would give polyamorous relationships equal rights under the law.

Opponents primarily rooted their criticism in what some say is a loophole in the proposed rule — that someone could put many people down as being in their polyamorous relationship and abuse the leave benefits.

Precinct 19 town meeting member Susan Ryan-Vollmar introduced the polyamory-inclusive domestic benefits measure and explained why she feels it is necessary.

“It makes no sense to impose greater eligibility requirements on people seeking to register their domestic partnership than those seeking a license to marry,” Ryan-Vollmar said.

“My wife and I met in college when we were 18,” she later added, referring to a civil-law same-sex marriage. “We became parents after we had been together for 20 years. I could speak for days describing the insults and injuries, which include denials of hospital visitation that we endured throughout the horrible time when our relationship had no legal protection.”

Precinct 14 town meeting member Christopher Moore led the opposition to the provision — not because he opposes polyamorous relationships, but because he said he things it could lead to benefits abuse. He filed an unsuccessful amendment to the provision to keep the requirements that people in these relationships live together and share basic living expenses. His amendment failed, 59-171.

“I think what we’re talking about here is not rights,” Moore said. “We don’t have any power over anybody’s family or anybody’s relationship. We can’t tell them what to do. What we are talking about is providing benefits in law and if those benefits should be limited and how.

“The main motion would allow for partnerships of unlimited size, consisting of any number of married or unmarried people, living separately or together and even people who are members of other domestic partnerships or marriages or people who live in other states,” he said. “It’s very broad with no real limits of how large these partnerships or partnership networks could be. That leads the proposal to easy abuse.”

Amos Meeks, a Precinct 3 town meeting member, said Moore’s concerns are baseless.

He noted that town employees are only entitled to a certain amount of paid leave each year and that this measure would not expand their paid leave benefits. 

“To oppose the entire article on the grounds of an unsupported speculative situation seems like fear mongering to me,” Meeks said.

Allan Totsi, a Precinct 17 town meeting member, who opposed expanding the town’s domestic benefits in this fashion, argued that the provision could have indirect costs — and lead to more expensive changes in later years.

“This is not a huge cost, but there will be a cost,” Totsi said of granting more unpaid leave to people in polyamorous relationships. “If somebody is not there, the town has to provide somebody else to do the work — often at overtime, especially in public safety.”

“Next year, if it can be done legally, I guarantee that health insurance will be next and that will be a huge cost,” he added.

During town meeting, it was revealed that there were three registered polyamorous relationships in Arlington as of the start of May 2022; none of those relationships involved town employees.

Polyamory is not the same as polygamy.

Unlike a polygamous relationship, which typically involves a man having multiple wives, including situations where one or more of the supposed wives is unaware of the other women, a polyamorous relationship typically does not involve marriage and has the consent of everyone involved. Polyamorous relationships can include heterosexual, homosexual, and bisexual relationships.

Arlington is one of three municipalities in Massachusetts that formally recognize polyamorous relationships. The others are the neighboring cities of Somerville and Cambridge. 


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