Somerville (Mass.) Allows Multi-Member Domestic Partnerships

Partners (who needn't be romantically involved with each other) can benefit from each other's health insurance—but siblings living together can't.

|The Volokh Conspiracy |

From an ordinance enacted last week:

The city, recognizing its commitment to nondiscrimination and fair treatment of its citizens and employees, adopts this ordinance acknowledging domestic partnerships. The ordinance allows persons in committed relationships who meet the criteria established by the city as constituting domestic partnerships to register at the office of the city clerk and obtain a certificate attesting to their status….

[Definitions:] (c) Domestic partnership means the entity formed by people who meet the following criteria and jointly file a registration statement proclaiming that:
(1) They are in a relationship of mutual support, caring and commitment and intend to remain in such a relationship; and
(2) They reside together; and
(3) They are not married; and
(4) They are not related by blood closer than would bar marriage in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts; and
(5) They are competent to contract; and
(6) They consider themselves to be a family.
(d) Mutual support means that the domestic partners each contribute in some fashion to the maintenance and support of the domestic partnership.
(e) Reside together means living together in a common household. A partner may be temporarily absent from the common household, so long as they have the intent to return. A partner may own or maintain an additional residence.

[Rights of domestic partnership:] (a) When the term "spouse" or "marriage" is used in other city ordinances, it shall be interpreted to include a domestic partner or partnership. When the term "family" is used in other city ordinances, it shall be interpreted to include domestic partnerships.

(b) The City of Somerville shall afford persons in domestic partnerships all the same rights and privileges afforded to those who are married…

According to Boston.com (Ellen Barry),

Under the new ordinance, city employees in polyamorous relationships would be able to extend health benefits to multiple partners. But it is not clear, Davis said, whether private employers will follow the city's lead.

The article describes the ordinance as recognizing "polyamorous relationships," so it sounds like that was its primary focus. But in principle this could apply to housemates, so long as the members are willing to describe themselves as "family." Likewise, it could apply to religious communes or monastery-like organizations or perhaps even fraternities and sororities, if they are willing to so describe themselves as families—not that big a leap from "brother" and "sister," I think. (I assume that sharing expenses for rent, food, and the like, would qualify as "mutual support," since it "contribute[s] in some fashion to the maintenance and support of the domestic partnership.") This suggests that someone who lives in a ten-person fraternity or fraternal order or commune and is a city employee could get health insurance coverage for all the "domestic partners."

Oddly, though, traditional families related by blood or marriage are categorically excluded: If six mutually supporting housemates are willing to declare themselves a "family," they can all become domestic partners and benefit from the health insurance offered to one of them. But if six siblings who live together (or three siblings and their spouses or lovers who all live together) want to do the same, they can't get the same benefit. Thanks to commenter Dr. Ed for the pointer.

NEXT: Lindsey Graham's Terrible Anti-Privacy 'EARN IT' Act Passes Senate Committee

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. The analysis of this development at the Somerville Bar Review should be great.

    1. Cambridge is due south of Somerville.

      1. Thanks for the pointer. Do you have any others?

  2. Is there an official corresponding divorce procedure?

    Needing to register might raise problems if the membership changes often.

    Fraternities and sororities, for instance; how many members will de-register properly at end of the school year, or when the graduate, or flunk out, or transfer, or just quit?

    What kind of enforcement is there for maintaining current membership? Any penalties for being out of date? Can membership change daily for large groups?

    Gonna be a lot of teething troubles.

    1. I hope everyone realizes incest, bestiality, and paedophilia are next.

      1. Well, incestuous relationships are already legal in some states, like New Jersey and Rhode Island, and has been for a decade or so. Reporting doesn’t exactly show a huge demand for it, nor any other noticeable impact, as far as I can tell.

        As for the others, if you can find adults capable of consent among animals or children, then you probably could have a relationship under many current laws. Good luck on that, though.

        1. >well
          >actually
          >argument reeks of apologism and goalpost shifting
          We got a smuggie guys!

          1. We do have a smuggie, and his name is RacecarJohnny.

            Domestic partnerships are, among other things, a contract. Show me animals or children who have the capacity to enter into a contract and you’ll have a valid point. Until then, you’re just blowing smoke.

            You have a better argument with incest, since that could involve consenting adults capable of entering a contract. Presumably, though, in the majority of states where incest is still illegal, its illegality would preclude domestic partnerships. In the few states in which it is, what’s the argument for not allowing domestic partnerships?

            1. Typical ancap libertarian bullshit. You hold up “capacity to consent to a contract” as some fundamental condition that will never be attacked by the marxist left. It’s a red herring. The core point had to do with the long march through the institutions and its devastating cultural effects on society. Your entire argument relies on the existence of some fundamental barrier to “progress”. When so far, there has been no evidence of any such barrier. Nothing can get in the way of “progress” and your apologism only emboldens them.

              Furthermore, “capacity to consent” is a fairly new construction when analyzing whether sexual relationships are permitted. It’s a new line in the sand, behind which libertarians and conservatives have retreated to feel better about themselves for their impotence. Previously, marriage was institutional and relied on tradition and procreative capacity in the context of presrving societal structures. Prohibitions on adultery, fornication, sodomy, and miscegenation had nothing to do with “capacity to consent”.

              Not to mention, relying on the idea of “capacity to consent” is asinine when applied to bestiality. When was the last time you asked your dog if it was okay if the vet stuck his finger up your dog’s ass?

              1. To the extent that there is a “march through institutions” it’s because there are a lot of people whose needs were not being met by those institutions. Those institutions only held sway through legal constraint and social pressure. Now that those things are gone, and institutions actually have to compete in the free market, they rise or fall depending on whether they meet people’s needs.

                If traditional marriage makes you happy, there is nothing stopping you from having one (assuming you can find a willing partner). In fact, most people still do choose traditional marriage, some marriages being more traditional than others. But, if you are gay, traditional marriage does not work for you. Traditional marriage has nothing to offer you.

                Your solution is to tell gays to take it or leave it. Well, why should they? You wouldn’t. Why aren’t they just as entitled to institutions that work for them as you are to institutions that work for you?

                Suppose you’re right and the floodgates really do open and we end up with anyone being able to do anything. I would predict that most people would still choose traditional marriage. There really isn’t that much of a market for people wanting to marry their Dobermans. For those who do, how does that harm your marriage? Is yours any less valid for theirs being recognized?

                1. Doberman marriage. The jokes write themselves.

                  Q: How’s your wife?
                  A: She’s a real bitch.

                  Q: I hear your wife is pretty hostile.
                  A: Well, her bark is worse than her bite.

                  [mic drop]

                  1. Bravo!!!

                2. Why does the government need to recognize anyone’s relationship, marriage, partnership, whatevs? The easy solution is to get the government out of the relationship recognition business because it isn’t a valid government concern.

                  1. Except that someone has to decide who gets pension and social security benefits; someone has to decide who gets to make medical decisions for an incapacitated person; someone has to decide who inherits when someone dies without a will. Getting government out if it works just fine until there’s a problem..

                    1. Getting government out if it works just fine until there’s a problem..

                      Government’s job is to record the contracts of citizens and provide courts to hear and decide disputes on same. The myriad of government interferences in peoples lives that are automatically/easily cleared by registering with the government is what the market wants. Those government interferences are exactly what needs to be removed.

              2. Consent is fundamental. Self-ownership means any consent-less action violates the non-aggression principle.

                You only showcase your own ignorance.

              3. Sex without consent falls into the category of acts commonly called “rape”, and has been handled differently than adultery or other forms of fornication by most cultures for the past several millennia.

                1. He’s not referring to actual lack of consent, but “deemed” lack of consent, from being under 18 or otherwise mentally incapacitated.

  3. “This suggests that someone who lives in a ten-person fraternity or fraternal order or commune and is a city employee could get health insurance coverage for all the “domestic partners.”

    Wow… it would do something else too — it would not only permit fraternities in single-family occupancy districts, but would be an end-run around the “four unrelated persons” local ordinance limits that many college towns have enacted to limit the number of college students able to live in a rented house or apartment.

    Amherst, Worcester, and I believe Boston have such ordinances.

    1. It would seem unlikely that a municipal ordinance supporting lager domestic partnerships would have any impact on occupancy rules and ordinances in other municipalities.

      If this was a state law, you might be close to having a valid point, but it’s not.

      1. “lager domestic partnerships”

        MillerCoors?

        Dogfish-Boston?

        And a few smaller ones . . . but likely not enough to precipitate municipal ordinances.

        1. No, most of the municipal ordinances have to do with Anheuser-Busch…

      2. Massachusetts is a Commonwealth and things sometimes get funky with many state powers getting delegated to the municipalities.

        But I’m thinking of Somerville itself — Harvard is in Cambridge, and the Green Line to BC & BU is being extended into Somerville.

        1. Sorry, but that does absolutely nothing to explain how a municipal ordinance in Somerville could affect a municipal ordinance on occupancy limits in Cambridge.

  4. Honk Honk.

    1. ? ?

      1. Look up “Clown world meme” Prof.

  5. Conservatives 2010: It won’t stop at gays
    Liberals 2010: Scare tactics, you are making a stupid illogical slippery slope argument.

    Conservatives 2020: Told you.
    Liberals 2020: Scare tactics, you are making a stupid illogical slippery slope argument.

    1. This.

      Thanks libertarians for all that you do.

      Sincerely,
      globohomo

    2. Bob,
      I’m not understanding the gnashing of teeth from conservatives on this issue. There is nothing “sexual” in this ordinance…it seems to only require partnerships of an enduring nature. I have straight male friends who have been living together as roommates for more than 2 decades. Same for female friends. Nothing sexual there.

      I don’t know if this is a good or a dopey idea. But it’s what conservatives and liberals always say they want…small laboratories to try different social policies. With, presumably, more people covered under health insurance, thereby lowering my costs and your costs (re to covering uninsured people who end up in the emergency room). I am failing to see any harm at all…other than the possibility that some of these pairings or groupings will end up also being sexual active together and that will offend my or your sensibilities about acceptable sexual behavior. But that’s pretty weak tea, isn’t it?

      1. Its just more devaluing of the family.

        1. As damaging as a Trump marriage?

          1. Or a Gingrich marriage . . . or a Limbaugh marriage . . . or a Hannity marriage . . . or an Earhardt marriage . . . or an O’Reilly marriage . . . or an Ailes marriage . . . or a Murdoch marriage . . . or the rest of the marriages of “traditional values” Republicans?

      2. If there’s nothing “sexual” in the ordinance, the exclusion of blood relatives seems a bit strange, no?

        1. Agreed. From the comments here, said exclusion seems really odd to a bunch of us as well.

        2. Indeed. It lacks any rational basis.

      3. Re: “With, presumably, more people covered under health insurance, thereby lowering my costs and your costs”

        It doesn’t actually work out that way. If you’re a health insurance company, and you’ve got 4 individuals paying a single rate for their insurance needs at a hypothetical cost of $5000 a person, then that’s $20,000 total. If suddenly now it’s just “1” person who spreads their needs across the new family, the new cost is now $20,000 for the policy.

        Ultimately it will actually likely raise overall costs, while shifting cost burdens around, as people take “advantage” of being able to form “family” groups, and the resulting shift if health insurance costs to account for it. In addition, it creates additional bureaucracy and paperwork, especially if there’s a lot of shifting in and out of these “family” groups.

        1. What it will really do is screw three groups of couples.

          The first is where the husband has a good paying job without benefits, and the wife has a low-paying government job with very good insurance.

          The second is the traditional couple where one spouse doesn’t work.

          The third is anyone with kids — as one spouse has to have a family policy to cover them.

          1. Currently, my Employer charges $180/week for a Family Policy. Defined as covering Spouse and Children. Do Government employees even remotely, approach that figure? I MUST also prove, they do not have Coverage where my Spouse works. This does NONE of those things. Free-Rider problem, indeed!

      4. I personally think there is no argument against this if you accept the SSM logic. If government should endorse gay unions why not Incest, beastiality, polygamy? Society should reevaluate from top to bottom to ensure that everybody benefits from from the new stance and not just one or two interest groups.

        1. Obergefell was pretty clear that its own logic should have required allowing polyamorous marriages, enough so that Kennedy had to make clear that polyamorists were excluded from Due Process and Equal Protection because [reasons].

        2. Vet care for my animals is very expensive. I’d be all for adding dogs and cats to my own health insurance. (But why do you insist on forcing me to have sex with animals…that’s not what the ordinance calls for?) If you really want to see, and hear about. bestiality, I am sure there are websites designed to accommodate you. (No, please don’t post the links here.) 🙁

          1. If you think vet care is expensive now, wait until it gets rolls into “health insurance” with people.

          2. Nobody’s forcing you to do anything. Just extend the same rights to other sexualities than you reserve for yourself. Love is love right? And your snide comments reveal a hateful dismissive attitude at odds with the tolerance and openmindness you claim as a progressive. Why are you so zooaphobic?

            Since all homophobes are closeted selfhating gay people according to Holyweird and activists that must mean you are a closeted zoophile yourself right?

          3. sm811,
            You’ll have to buy health insurance for your animals. We do.

      5. With, presumably, more people covered under health insurance, thereby lowering my costs and your costs

        New math… More recipients same number of payers = lower costs?

    3. I recall was conservatives declaring every but or progress since Lawrence was a slippery slope to legalizing pedophilia.

      1. Takes a while to burn down everything.

      2. Why are you assuming that letting a mentally disordered man bareback another dude to be “progress.”

        1. Cause of how hawt it is for the ladies.
          It’s the fundamental right to double rampant member action.

    4. Bob, the thing with slippery slope arguments is that at each step of the process, the proponents of change still need to show that what they’re advocating is good policy.

      Yes, legal equality for blacks did lead (or at least was a contributing factor) to legal equality for women, which in turn led to legal equality for gays, which is in the process of leading to legal equality for the transgendered. But, the women, the gays, and the transgendered still had to convince people that they had a good claim. And if someday we see a push for legal equality for animals (I doubt it, but it could happen), then it will be the same thing: Proponents of animal rights will still need to convince people that they have a good case. It’s not simply a matter of going all the way back to the top and saying that because blacks have equal rights, that it therefore follows that so do German shepherds.

      1. Do not confuse “slippery slope” arguments with taking arguments to their logical conclusions. In the case of gay rights and transgenderism, the arguments have gone along the lines of “I have a right to love who I want and do what I want and it’s nobody’s business because Love is love and I was born this way and you have to accept that or else you bigot.”

        Each time, the special interest group employs exactly the above (disingenuous) argument via a massive propaganda campaign. And each time anyone who speaks up about why it isn’t a good idea is denounced and slandered, and the substance of their arguments are ignored. The campaign for transgender “rights” is employing exactly the same tactics as the one for gay “rights” did. And polygamysts will do the same. How do we know? Just look to current LDS messaging in Utah.

        Therefore, why does the above argument fail when applied to more extreme relationships? Do you really think the principle of capacity from contract law will hold in the face of a massive pro paedophilia campaign?

        1. Because the fact that I disagree with where you place lines doesn’t mean I can’t draw lines of my own. Your argument, if I understand it correctly, is that if I don’t accept your boundaries then no boundaries are possible.

          The first rule of boundary setting is do no harm. Pedophilia harms children; relationships between consenting adults generally don’t harm anyone. Incestuous relationships can cause harm if they produce children for genetic reasons.

          You’re positing a false alternative. I’m allowed to say *this specific* relationship causes harm and *this other specific relationship* does not. I’m not limited to saying that either everything is forbidden or nothing is forbidden.

          1. The genetic argument is a load of crap, unless you’re willing to prevent people whose kids are likely to have genetic deformities from producing, and unless you’re willing to exempt married couples past child-bearing age.

            1. No, that just requires drawing lines even more finely. You’re insisting on one size fits all. Maybe only certain types of incestuous relationships need to be banned. Or not. The point is, stuff can be looked at case by case.

              1. Why does that matter, after all, we have no free will so it’s not like we have a choice to boff underage kids or not, right?

                1. Wow, that really touched a nerve for you, didn’t it?

      2. When I read in a German Shepherd legal journal that they need the “usual” legal rights, I’ll be pleased to agree with them.

  6. I imagine a multi partner relationship which might include siblings and others would seem to have a discrimination lawsuit.

    1. Impossible, comrade. All partners are equal, but some are more equal than others.

    2. I don’t see why the eldest sibling couldn’t adopt the younger ones in order to bring them into the fold.

  7. Interesting. If the practice becomes a trend, I predict that it will drive significant changes to health insurance pricing. Right now, there’s a pretty generous discount for families. And there’s some tolerance for the adverse selection inherent in letting two working spouses choose which of their employers will get hit with the entire family’s costs.

    I predict that you’ll either see:
    – family-priced health insurance go away – pricing will become a flat multiplier of the number of people covered.
    – the spousal coverage choice go away – if your employer offers insurance, you’ll have to take that even if your spouse’s insurance is better.
    – health insurance prices rise, maybe by a lot.
    – all of the above.

    1. No worries, just vote democratic down the line in November.
      Universal coverage, single payer.
      Gonna complicate a lot of other laws though; consider “household income” qualifications for all kinds of other government benefits.

      1. I know you’re being facetious but having lived in countries with single-payer, it makes the warts of our current system seem mild. If you want to see what single-payer looks like in the US, ask veterans how satisfied they are with the VA. See what they have to say about the realities of waiting times and rationed care.

        1. Indeed. “Single payer” means “no customer choice”.

          “No customer choice” means there’s no incentive for the provider to listen to the demands of the consumer, because what’s the consumer going to do? Leave? And go where?

    2. That is a major potential issue.

      Right now families are “discounted” largely due to the relatively low health expenditures, on average, for children, as compared to adults. Especially adults in their upper middle ages.

    3. Yeah, I was thinking one could make some money this way: “Room for rent, includes health insurance.”

      But then some downsides came to mind. If you “accidentally” die the roommate gets your Somerville city pension. If you “accidentally” end up in a coma, the roommate is the one who’ll be sitting down with the doctors discussing whether they should pull the plug.

      Better just stick to WiFi and water as the freebie incentives.

  8. And liberals said this WOULD NEVER HAPPEN when we were forced to recognize gay marriage. I hope more stuff like this takes place and soon. Will give us a lot to look back on as a warning during the Grand Correction.

    1. The “Grand Correction?” Is that anything like the “Great Awakening?”

      You guys have been reading Volokh and Blackman too long, and listening to Hannity and Carlson and Ingraham too much, and apparently taking them seriously.

      The culture war is not over but it is settled. The good guys have won.

      1. Keep on telling yourself that. Just like Hillary was going to win in a landslide, right?

        1. Trump pardoned an openly gay Army officer and Trump had a gay NSA.

        2. Haven’t you been paying attention, Jimmy?

          Blue June!

          The clingers are flying the white flag.

  9. (d) Mutual support means that the domestic partners each contribute in some fashion to the maintenance and support of the domestic partnership.

    “Who, me? I contribute, um, er, ah, emotional support; yeah, that’s it.”

    1. I load the dishwasher, sometimes.

  10. Puts a whole new meaning to “friends with benefits”

    1. LOL

    2. librarian: Prof. Laura Rosenbury beat you to it, in this article?

  11. This could easily get out of hand with pensions in states with pensions that are already underfunded.

  12. You need to be careful extending pension obligations to family members. Ten years ago, the US was still paying several widows’ pensions for Civil War veterans – that is, it was paying pensions to women who had married veterans about 60 years after the war, when they were about 20 and the men were about 80. Those widows may be all dead now, but at least one Civil War pension is still being paid, to the disabled daughter of a Civil War veteran and one of those late-life wives. The original commitment to pay pensions to men who fought for the Union and might live another 70 or 80 years, turned into a commitment that lasted 155 years and counting…

    It’s too bad “no taxation without representation” was just a slogan, not a clause in the Constitution, because my grandchildren will be paying federal, state, and local taxes for obligations incurred when _I_ was too young to vote.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.