Who’s in YOUR family?

Who gets to decide who is in your family?  In the US at least, the answer to that in many cases is… NOT you!  The definition of family is determined at a legal level for a variety of purposes, such as healthcare benefits and hospital visitation. Many of these issues, of course, have been at the heart of the fight over same sex marriage rights.

Now, a family in Connecticut find themselves on the forefront of another aspect of this fight over the definition of “family,” that of zoning laws and housing rights.

In a discussion on the Poly Leadership Network list, there’s been some discussion about this issue. Angi Becker Stevens when she posted the above article, said:

“They don’t seem to identify as [polyamorous], though in my mind any group coming together and living communally as a loving, intentional family is closely related to poly, regardless of how the sexual/romantic relationships work. And clearly, this is very relevant for poly families.”

I certainly agree that it’s relevant to poly families, and some interesting discussion about the laws governing group housing situations has arisen on-list.  Most of it boiling down to “be very careful to research the local laws before purchasing property — or even signing a lease — with a group of “unrelated adults.”

But are they “polyamorous”?

Still, the question has been raised again on-list and elsewhere, of whether these folks are “actually polyamorous.”  What constitutes “polyamorous” is a sticky question to start with (see my past article “Polyamory”: What’s IN and What’s OUT? for more discussion on what “counts as polyamory”.) That said, I’m not sure it really matters whether they’re poly or not.

The question of whether we are free to determine who “family” is, is in my opinion a human rights issue (thanks to Woodhull’s Family Matters Project for this perspective). And the question of whether we are free to determine who “family” is, is definitely a “poly issue” from a legal and social standpoint. In many ways, I feel that what they do behind closed doors is completely irrelevant, in the same way that what I do behind closed doors is irrelevant. After all, it is — and should be — irrelevant whether a “family by blood” that includes aunts and uncles and grandparents are all “sleeping together.”  Why should it matter whether any of these people are “sleeping together”?

Situations like this definitely cause me to feel — not for the first time — that the whole institution of marriage as a legal entity conferring special rights and privileges (in the US) should be tossed out the window.  This wouldn’t even be a question if there weren’t issues surrounding health care and property rights (along with NIMBYism etc) tied up in whether these people are “married” and/or a “family.”

And as Allena Gabosch of Seattle’s Center for Sex-Positive Culture said,

“More people are creating intentional living situations and because of the cost of housing now days […] , it’s becoming more and more common. “

So who’s in YOUR family? Is that the same or different from who the government thinks is in your family? Or your neighbors? Or your “blood relatives”?

As always, feel free to comment here in my blog, or on Facebook or by writing to me directly.

In any case, I hope you’ll remember that…
No matter who or how many you love, Love is ALWAYS ok!

~♥ Dawn

FREEPS: Interested in support for YOUR particular form of family?

Contact me, and we’ll set up a time to chat!





©2015, Dawn M. Davidson

2 thoughts on “Who’s in YOUR family?

  1. Michael Carey

    Situations like this definitely cause me to feel — not for the first time — that the whole institution of marriage as a legal entity conferring special rights and privileges (in the US) should be tossed out the window.

    Michael Kinsley half-jokingly suggested that, about a decade ago. It was actually in engaging with his arguments from that column, that I came to the position I’ve held about marriage and family law ever since, which I summarized toward the end of this column.

    1. Uncharted Love / Love Outside the Box Post author

      Thanks, Michael. I’m deeply in agreement with pretty much all that you’ve said (my only hesitation being that I skimmed your article, rather than reading it as thoroughly as it deserves!)

      I have experienced first-hand the “polys aren’t really oppressed” arguments, and honestly, it pissed me off. (The same person also gave me “fat people choose to be fat and therefore aren’t oppressed,” too, which further pissed me off.) As you say, I’d really prefer not to play the Oppression Olympics, and to instead engage with the concept that all oppressions matter, and that we can care about more than one at a time. It’s a societal extension of my mantra that for a relationship to “win,” everyone in it has to feel like they’re “winning.” So if one person is hurting by being oppressed, then it is incumbent upon us all to try to address that, or we ALL “lose.”

      FWIW, there IS starting to be some research out there about kids in poly households being no more screwed up than kids in mono households. Elisabeth Sheff‘s The Polyamorists Next Door is a good source of info. There are other researchers around the world working on this topic as well. More information is almost undoubtedly going to be presented at the upcoming (Sept 2015) conference in Portugal: Non-monogamies and Contemporary Intimacies.

      And yes, I think getting the government out of the marriage biz is likely the only way to really sort all of this out in a way that’s fair to individuals of all sorts. Other countries already do this (Israel, for one), so anyone who tries to say that it’s not possible just isn’t looking at the facts.


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