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Polyamorous families are recognized and protected in Oakland, CA


San Francisco Bay Area cities recently passed legislation barring discrimination against polyamorous people, people who have multiple romantic relationships with the consent of everyone involved. Advocates see the move as a significant step to reduce stigma. Lesley McClurg from member station KQED has more.

LESLEY MCCLURG, BYLINE: New legislation passed the Oakland City Council unanimously in April.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Thank you. The motion passes with eight ayes.

MCCLURG: New protections will prevent discrimination based on family and relationship structure in housing, businesses and civil services. A violation will lead to a fine. An eclectic group of advocates of all ages gathered to celebrate after the vote.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: This is amazing. We have civil rights.


MCCLURG: Several speeches touched on how the new laws afford the polyamorous community a stamp of legitimacy. The legislation is the first of its kind on the West Coast. It also passed easily in Berkeley in May. But similar protections exist in Somerville and Cambridge, Mass. Diana Adams helped craft those laws.

DIANA ADAMS: It's very exciting that there is a national movement for these laws because once it's made illegal to discriminate against someone anywhere in the U.S., that starts to change the perception of whether that's acceptable.

MCCLURG: Adams is a divorce lawyer who represents polyamorous people and advocates for their interests.

ADAMS: Every time we pass these laws as well, we help raise awareness about just how common these kinds of relationship structures are.

MCCLURG: Research shows that more than 20% of single adults in the U.S. have participated in some type of consensual nonmonogamy. But some religious groups openly criticize polyamory. Greg Burt is with the California Family Council, a Christian faith-based organization.

GREG BURT: Our primary opposition is government normalizing, incentivizing and promoting nontraditional family arrangements that actually hurt children.

MCCLURG: He says kids thrive when they are raised by their biological mother and father. But John Owens, a 37-year-old artist and writer who lives in Oakland, said the traditional model didn't work for him. He had a daughter in his early 20s.

JOHN OWENS: It was hard. I can't imagine trying to parent in a two-parent or one-parent household ever again. There's no way.

MCCLURG: He hopes to have more children.

OWENS: My dream scenario is some big polyamorous collective.

MCCLURG: Owens just got the keys for a new house, which he's renting with other polyamorous folks. He just moved for the fifth time in less than a decade and says each of those moves was, in part, driven by the fact that he didn't quite feel at home because either a roommate or a landlord didn't understand his lifestyle.

OWENS: I decided several years ago that I was going to be fully open and out about being polyamorous with everyone and in every context.

MCCLURG: He's in three long-term romantic partnerships.

OWENS: It's hard to even think about all the different times different people that I've encountered in professional or medical or housing institutional settings have made it pretty clear that they're not okay with the way I live my life.

MCCLURG: He's excited the new laws in Oakland and Berkeley offer a layer of official protection. He says it eases his mind knowing the law is on his side. For NPR News, I'm Lesley McClurg in Oakland.

(SOUNDBITE OF BUSTA RHYMES ET AL. SONG, "ADORN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Lesley McClurg
[Copyright 2024 NPR]