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Berkeley Passes Legal Protections for Polyamory, Joining Oakland

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John Owens speaks with his partners Emily Savage (left) and Alejandra Bravo Ducey at a celebration party at the East Bay Community Space in Oakland on April 16, 2024, after a bill prohibiting discrimination of non-monogamous families passed in the Oakland City Council. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

Berkeley is on tap to approve legal protections for polyamorous families, moving to shield people in “diverse family structures” from discrimination in housing, businesses, and civil services.

On first reading Tuesday night the regulations passed the City Council. They cover multi-partner families, step-families, single parents, multi-generational households and asexual relationships. A final vote on the legislation is next Tuesday, May 21.

“Berkeley must stand united against discrimination of all kinds,” said Berkeley City Councilmember Terry Taplin, who introduced the bill. “As a gay Black Berkeleyan raised by a single mother, protecting our community’s diversity will always be a key goal in my public service, and families with nontraditional structures deserve our protection.”

Similar legislation passed in Oakland last month, spearheaded by Janani Ramachandran, the city’s first LGBTQ councilwoman of color. The votes are believed to be the first of their kind on the West Coast. In recent years, the Massachusetts cities of Somerville and Cambridge passed laws granting rights to nontraditional families.

“This is a really exciting moment for the nonmonogamy movement because it helps validate and protect families and relationships that for a long time have existed in the shadows or at the margins of societies,” said Brett Chamberlin, founder and executive director of the Organization for Polyamory and Ethical Non-monogamy, a nonprofit advocacy group.


Research shows that two-thirds of people engaged in consensual nonmonogamy report feeling stigmatized, which leads many to hide that they are polyamorous because they fear negative perceptions.

“Stigma and discrimination can show up in a range of domains: housing, employment, health care and immigration,” Chamberlin said. “Courts have revoked custody from parents who have multiple partners.”

Some religious groups are openly critical of nontraditional family structures. The California Family Council, a Christian faith-based organization, is vehemently opposed to any measure that affirms polyamorous relationships.

“The push by Oakland and Berkeley to formalize polyamorous families is cultural suicide,” Greg Burt, vice president of CFC, said in a statement. “History and experience have shown children thrive best in nuclear father, mother and child families. A civilization that rejects this biblical model for family life is hell-bent on its own destruction.”

Yet the country may be trending away from the nuclear family.

Research shows that one in five single people in the U.S. have participated in some type of nonmonogamy. A 2023 poll conducted by YouGov, an international analytics group, found that approximately a third of U.S. adults said that their ideal relationship is nonmonogamous to some degree.

“These laws raise awareness about the many forms of modern family and declares discrimination against them unacceptable and unlawful,” said Diana Adams, the executive director of Chosen Family Law Center. “That reduces stigma for us everywhere.”

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