A win for non-monogamy: Cambridge, Massachusets extends domestic partnerships to multi-partner families

Some celebration-worthy news in the midst of challenging times: On March 8th 2021, the Cambridge City Council approved a domestic partnership ordinance that seeks to recognize and protect polyamorous and other multi-partner families and relationships. Put together by the Polyamory Legal Advocacy Coalition (PLAC), this ordinance stipulates that a domestic partnership can include more than two partners. 

Researchers estimate that as many as one in five people in the United States have engaged in consensual non-monogamy at some point in their life. Yet while polyamorous and multi-partner relationships have been increasing, legal protections for these groups have been slow to follow.

“Non-nuclear families—such as single parents supported by relatives, step-families, open adoption families, multi-generational families, multi-parent families, and polyamorous families—have changed the landscape of American society, and yet, many of these diverse family structures are not protected or recognized by the law," said Alexander Chen, Founding Director of the Harvard Law School LGBTQ+ Advocacy Clinic. 

“The lack of legal protection makes non-nuclear families especially vulnerable to stigma and discrimination in employment, health care, housing, and social life," Diana Adams, Executive Director of the Chosen Family Law Center recently wrote. "I have represented hundreds of clients who have been discriminated against because they’re polyamorous, whether that meant being unable to visit their life partner in the hospital, losing child custody in court battles, or losing their job. Legal recognition of these families reduces social stigma and provides families with the stability we all deserve.” 

This is an important step forward for multi-partner families because domestic partnerships provide many important benefits.

In Massachusetts, the legal benefits of domestic partnerships include rights to:

  • Hospital visitation
  • Family healthcare coverage/employment benefits
  • Correctional facility visitation 
  • Access dependent kids' school records
  • Remove a child from school for emergencies
  • Bereavement leave
  • Sick leave to care for a partner

In addition to legal benefits, domestic partnerships help recognize commitments between people in multi-party partnerships. 

While certainly rare, this isn’t the first domestic partnership ordinance in the United States that recognizes polyamorous and multi-partner relationships. In July 2020 Somerville, Massachusetts legalized domestic partnerships between three or four people. The urgent need to expand access to health care during the COVID-19 crisis helped catalyze the change and the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the unique vulnerabilities non-monogamous families face. 

However, the Somerville statute contained "provisions that made it difficult to be utilized in practice,” according to Diana Adams, Executive Director of the Chosen Family Law Center. The legal team at PLAC drafted a model ordinance that incorporated those learnings. For this reason Adams hopes it “may have much greater practical impact." 

While these ordinances only apply to Somerville and Cambridge, they mark an important step forward in legal protections offered to polyamorous and multi-partner families. People deserve to know that their love relationships and family structure can be recognized and protected under the law. They shouldn’t have to fear that they won’t be able to visit their loved one in a hospital ––  or that their community will only recognize one of their partners as being valid. I hope that these ordinances will provide inspiration and a framework for other cities, including San Francisco, to pass similar laws.

COVID Safer Sex Guidelines from the San Francisco Sex-Positive Democratic Club

When it comes to public health, individual choices can have far-reaching repercussions. The San Francisco Sex-Positive Democratic Club views public policy through a harm-reduction lens. 

We encourage everyone to do their part to slow the spread of COVID-19 while we seek better treatment and a vaccine. At the same time, we don’t believe it’s realistic to believe everyone, everywhere is going to only have sex with people they’re living with.

The SF Department of Health has released COVID-19 recommendations. As you navigate decisions on sex and COVID, we wanted to offer some additional science-based suggestions for making hooking up a little safer. 

  • Ask your partner when they’ve last been tested for COVID-19. A recent negative test is a good signal. But keep in mind that with delays in test results it’s no guarantee. 
  • If your partner has already had COVID-19, make sure it’s been more than 10 days since their symptoms began, they have been fever-free for more than 24 hours without using fever-reducing drugs, and their other symptoms have improved. (Caveat: Loss of taste and smell may persist for weeks or months after recovery and need not delay the end of isolation​.)
  • Ask your partner if they’ve recently experienced any loss of taste or smell or any other COVID symptoms. Also remember that COVID-19 also spreads asymptomatically and your partner might be contagious 48 to 72 hours before they start having symptoms.
  • Take your partner’s temperature before going into an enclosed space or swapping bodily fluids. Again, this isn’t foolproof, but it can help avoid unnecessary exposure.
  • Ask your partner about their COVID exposure. 
    • How many people do they regularly interact with indoors without a mask? 
    • How about inside with a mask? 
    • What quality of masks are they wearing? 
    • Have they been in close contact with anyone who has recently been diagnosed? 
    • Are they an essential worker? 
    • Do they work in healthcare? 

Having a conversation about your risk and theirs can help you both make an informed decision about whether or not the sex is worth the risk. 

  • Consider forming a pandemic pod which includes sexual partners. 
  • Consider wearing masks while hooking up. Ideally N95 masks without vents. Might be a good time to experiment with fetish masks
  • Hook up outside if possible. If you need to be inside, keep the windows open. If that’s not possible, use an air purifier. Be mindful of Japan’s “three C’s” for contracting the virus: closed spaces, crowded places, and close-contact settings.
  • Try to keep your time in close proximity to 30 minutes or less.
  • Use barrier methods including condoms and dental dams for oral and anal play. Coronavirus has been found in semen and poop.
  • Experiment with glory holes.

It’s important to remember that risk is just one side of the risk/reward equation. While for some, sex is not worth any risk, for others it’s worth a lot. Just like for some, a massage or haircut is worth a lot of risk. The goal is to allocate your risk budget according to your preferences and to reduce as much low-reward risk as is practical.  

“Ignoring benefits at either the individual or the societal level comes with its own risks,” wrote Why is This Interesting? author Noah Briar of risk/reward calculations for COVID-19. “Abstinence education, for example, has been shown to be correlated with increases in teen pregnancy and STD rates in the United States. When it comes to public health, balancing personal and societal benefits with the associated risks is near the top of the list of concerns.”

For a list of comprehensive information on testing, resources, and other facts regarding COVID-19, please visit https://sf.gov/topics/coronavirus-covid-19. You can also text COVID19SF to 888-777 to get alerts for official updates from the City and County of San Francisco.

The San Francisco Sex-Positive Democratic Club exists to advance the ideals of Sex-Positivity in local governance and discourse. Sex-Positivity is a philosophy that all consensual sexual behavior between adults is inherently healthy and supports all sexual orientations, gender identities, relationship styles, opposes censorship, and supports sexual minorities, regardless of race, class, religion, ability, or ideology. 

We support public policies that advance this mission at the local, regional, state, and national level. We help elect qualified Sex-Positive candidates, including those who are: non-monogamous, kinky, sex-workers, LGBTQ, and members of other alternative sexual communities, as well as their allies. We work to sensitize and educate all Democratic candidates and officeholders, the Democratic Party in general, and the community at large, to the issues and concerns of these communities. To learn more, head to: https://www.sfspdc.org/.

BDSM & The Law expert panel discussion

In honor of what would normally be the month of Folsom, our September event was BDSM & The Law, an expert panel discussion on the legal status of kink (and non-monogamy). 

Check out the video of the event:

Can we really, legally, hit each other with sticks?… and floggers, and canes, and paddles, and OH HOW WE MISS KINKY PARTIES.

Meet our expert panelists:

Susan Wright founded the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom in 1997, and currently serves as Spokesperson and Director of Incident Reporting & Response. Susan also serves on the advocacy and community advisory committees for AASECT, the APA’s Division 44: Task Force on Consensual Non-monogamy, Kink Clinician Guidelines, and Diverse Sexualities Research Education Institute. 

Alex Austin, founder of the Austin Law Group, is an attorney who’s been protecting queers, creatives, perverts and outliers for over two decades. The firm focuses on social justice, the arts, adult entertainment, and BDSM. Alex also co-founded the San Francisco Transgender Film Festival in 1997, and is an Academy Award nominated Executive Producer. More than one client has lovingly dubbed Alex their “compassionate Pitbull.” Alex has been part of the Leather community for more than 30 years and is a founder and 'House Dominant' at The San Francisco Leather Service Salon. 

Randy Kirton has been intimately involved in the San Francisco kink scene since 2005 and has supported all kink venues in San Francisco and the East Bay. He is a retired police captain with 30 years of law enforcement experience and service to the community. Although retired now, is well versed in the law as it relates to BDSM and alternative lifestyles.

Miriam (Mir) Green is the owner of Wicked Grounds, San Francisco’s Kink Cafe & Boutique, as well as Wicked Grounds Annex, a dedicated space for kink and sex positive education in San Francisco and beyond. Their mission is to provide coffee, kink, and community building for the SF and national kink scenes. They also co-founded the Bay Area Kinky Business Alliance (2014-2019). 

Becca Motola-Barnes, Sex-Positive Dems’ VP Internal Communications, moderated.

Below are some thoughts I had about the panel, but I recommend you watch for yourself to get the full experience.

I learned that consent is not necessarily a defense to assault. State law varies on this point. In California, the relevant statues are PCE sections 240 and 242. Neither mentions consent. After looking at the text of the law, you need to then look at case law. For most of us a relevant case is the Samuels case, decided in 2016. The court said you can't consent to abuse and anyone who would consent must be mentally ill. Which means that if you're practicing BDSM and your partner decides to accuse you of assault, legally consent is no protection. Now, these laws aren't consistently enforced. But, prosecutors can use them for child custody and other selective enforcement. 

If you believe you're being discriminated against for consensual sexual activity, report it to NCSF. Susan brought up that last year the government tried to take kinky parents' children eight times. This is down from 124 in 2008. The big difference is that the between 2008 and today the APA removed BDSM from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). Which means vanilla parents can't point to the DSM to claim kinky parents are crazy. 

Despite low numbers, Randy brought up that most of us might not have heard of prosecutions of kinky people due to prosecutors depriving defendants of a right to a trial. Randy also brings up that if a neighbor overhears a scene and calls the police fearing violence police have a right to enter your home without your permission using reasonable force. Randy advises kinky folks to bring everyone involved to the door and explain the situation cooperatively. 

Alex described how sometimes people accidentally injure each other in scenes sometimes and stigma around sex and BDSM lead to people to not admit to doctors how they got their injuries. According to research from NCSF, these injuries are very rare. Less than 2% of consent violations result in injury. Alex chimed in: "In 25 years practicing law around BDSM I can count on one hand the number of people who've come into my office saying they were injured in BDSM play."

Becca advised folks to go into scenes aware of your limitations, medical insurance situation, health, etc.

When Becca asked how common discrimination against kinky people is Alex brought up that it's perfectly legal to discriminate against kinky folks. It's always a risk to come out at work. Some employers believe that openly kinky employees can harm the company's reputation. "My two favorite words are paper trail," Alex said. Document everything if you're going to be out at work. You can get accused of harassment for talking about your weekend activities (Folsom, etc.). Susan said that 80% of NCSF survey respondents aren't out at work. People get fired and lose their kids for having FetLife accounts. One HOA said a homeowner's two partners couldn't live with them. 

Randy reminded us that doctors are "mandatory reporters." If you show up bruised up, Randy advised us to tell the doctor how that happened because the doctor is required to report to police if they suspect abuse. 

Alex recommended that folks set up your medical directives, who your spouse/s are, who your children are, your name and gender, anything where the legal default isn't to your liking ahead of time. 

Mir chimed in with advice to kinky business owners. Make your team kink-aware, find kinky-friendly, lawyers, accountants, insurers, etc. Beware that credit card companies are very wary of kink-related businesses. Tell all your providers the nature of your business as soon in the relationship as humanly possible to save you both time.

NCSF Kink and Poly Aware Professionals list

De-pathologizing Consensual BDSM

NCSF's Dealing with Assault for individuals

NCSF's Trauma Pamphlet

Poly Cultural Diversity Alliance Virtual Consent Summit

NCSF Members Insurance

Key Concepts for Clubs

Reminder: Membership to SFSPD is open to all CA residents who are either registered to vote as Democrats or ineligible to register. 

Follow-up message from Randy:

I was very honored to have been asked to sit on the BDSM & the Law Panel, and truly enjoyed the experience. However, I have been deeply troubled since that night. 

Towards the end of the panel I told a true story of an on-the-job experience that involved a person of color involved in a role play situation in which I was called to investigate as a possible sex crime in progress. 

Upon reflection, I have realized that the story I told, while true, was racially insensitive. I offer my sincere apology for my tone-deaf and insensitive comments.

I have learned a valuable lesson and strive to do better in the future.

The EARN IT Act is Anti-Evidence Policy

What do you call a bill which all the evidence indicates is completely unnecessary for its stated purpose, will fail to achieve its stated purpose, and will create a lot of pain and suffering in the meantime? You call it the EARN IT Act. 

Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) introduced the EARN IT Act in March supposedly to help fight online child sexual abuse material (CSAM). The EARN IT Act does this by making platforms liable for their users’ activity if that activity involves sex and minors. But this is totally unnecessary. Platforms are already liable for child sexual exploitation under federal law. Plus, tech companies sent more than 45 million instances of CSAM to the DOJ in 2019 alone, most of which they declined to investigate. The Earn It Act includes zero resources for proven investigation or prevention programs.

What it does do is threaten online speech and privacy. It does so by carving out another exception to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (CDA 230), which the ACLU describes as “foundational to modern online communications.” 

The Earn IT Act also creates an unelected commission, led by Attorney General William Barr, to create “best practices” to combat online child sexual exploitation. While these recommendations are nominally voluntary, platforms that refuse to comply will be liable for criminal prosecutions and lawsuits should the government decide any of their users is engaging in online child sexual exploitation. 

On Tuesday, the Center for Democracy & Technology (CDT) along with a coalition of 26 civil society organizations urged the United States Senate to reject the EARN IT Act. Groups on the left and right, including the ACLU, Fight for the Future, EFF, and Hacking // Hustling oppose because it threatens free expression online and will threaten marginalized people’s safety while being totally unnecessary and failing to ameliorate the problem it claims to address.

The EARN IT Act Threatens Encryption

While there’s almost no evidence the EARN IT Act will do anything to protect kids online, there’s ample evidence it will threaten strong encryption. First there’s the fact that Barr has already attempted to ban end-to-end encryption. Then there’s the fact that the EARN IT Act empowers states to give law enforcement access to users’ private conversations and force companies to create encryption backdoors for law enforcement. 

Not only is this totally unnecessary since platforms are already handing over child sexual abuse material to the federal government, but it’s actually likely to make prosecuting child molesters more difficult since evidence collected this way likely violates the Fourth Amendment and would be inadmissible in court. “Accused CSAM offenders could get off scot-free,” Senator Ron Wyden wrote. “This is not a risk that I am willing to take. The EARN IT Act will not protect children. It will not stop the spread of child sexual abuse material, nor target the monsters who produce and share it, and it will not help the victims of these evil crimes. What it will do is threaten the free speech, privacy, and security of every single American.”

The EARN IT Act Threatens Free Speech

The EARN IT Act will also lead to online censorship. Platforms will be incentivized to scan their users’ communications and censor all sex-related content, including sex education, transgender or non-binary education and support systems, and sex worker communication according to the ACLU. The commission will not include LGBTQ, sex worker, or other marginalized community representation.

Learning from SESTA/FOSTA

We can more accurately predict what the EARN IT Act is likely to do because it’s modeled after 

2018’s SESTA/FOSTA, which purported to stop sex trafficking but actually just chilled online speech and made sex work more dangerous. It also did absolutely nothing to stop sex trafficking. 

Before SESTA/FOSTA, sex workers used websites like Craigslist and Backpage to avoid police violence, share lists of dangerous clients, positively identify clients, and negotiate rates and boundaries at a safe distance and without the need for pimps. In many cities where Craigslist Erotic Services debuted, all female homicide dropped by as much as 17% within a few years.

SESTA/FOSTA led to Online Censorship

The government can’t ban sex workers from sharing safety information or advertising directly without running afoul of the First Amendment. SESTA/FOSTA is a workaround, bullying online speech platforms into censoring their users to avoid liability. 

SESTA/FOSTA makes online platforms like reddit and Craigslist criminally liable for their users’ “sex trafficking” activity. But since the US government conflates adult, voluntary sex work with trafficking, platforms started deleting vast swaths of sex-related content before the law had even been signed. 

Fearing bankrupting lawsuits and possible criminal charges, Google and other cloud storage sites even started scanning users’ private files for sex-related content and deleting it without warning or permission. 

SESTA/FOSTA Made Sex Work More Dangerous

Suddenly sex workers no longer had access to social networks, bad date lists, verification platforms, and advertising platforms. As sex workers were forced back into street work and using pimps, thirteen sex workers were reported missing, and two took their lives in the first month FOSTA was enacted.

Sex worker advocacy groups have reported a spike in the number of missing and dead sex workers across the country. With fewer advertising venues, 80.61% of sex workers reported having trouble advertising, 72.45% are more economically unstable, and 33.8% have experienced more client violence since FOSTA. Literally 99% of sex workers who used the internet for sex work said FOSTA does not make them feel safer. 

“The devastation after SESTA/FOSTA passed was swift and widespread,” said Kate D’Adamo, a sex worker advocate with Hacking // Hustling. “Two years later, many sex workers are still trying to economically recover. We saw increases in client violence, predatory behavior, and no one can say that anti-trafficking efforts improved. Passing EARN IT without even fully understanding the failures of SESTA/FOSTA is negligent at best and knowingly exacerbating violence at worst.” 

No one has ever been charged under SESTA/FOSTA. The government claims the laws have decreased sex trafficking ads by 90%. But a Washington Post analysis found that just four months after FOSTA-SESTA’s passage, that number had rebounded to 75% of the original figure. Decreasing ads for prostitution actually makes finding sex trafficking victims more difficult, since ads were one of the primary ways law enforcement found traffickers. 

The only thing we’ve gotten from FOSTA is dead sex workers and bullshit lawsuits. A challenge to FOSTA’s constitutionality on First Amendment grounds is winding its way through the courts. Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders have introduced bipartisan bills to investigate the negative impacts, a first step toward possible repeal.


“The internet has made sex work safer,” said Maxine Holloway, a Bay Area sex worker and advocate. “The Earn It Act threatens sex workers and survivors by taking away our online platforms. We use the internet to get support and protect ourselves. This bill does nothing to prevent trafficking, while taking away our biggest safety tool.”

The Bottom Line

We know what keeps kids safe online. We have evidence-based programs that desperately need funding and support. The EARN IT Act doesn’t include a single dollar of funding for these programs. In May, Senator Ron Wyden introduced the Invest in Child Safety Act which provides more than $5 billion in mandatory funding, assigns more prosecutors and agents to find and charge child predators, and tasks a single person with responsibility for these efforts. 

The EARN IT Act is not a well-intentioned bill with the unfortunate unintended consequence of censoring speech online and banning end-to-end encryption. It’s a cynical ploy that uses the spectre of online child abuse to erode Section 230 protections, bully platforms into censoring sex-related speech, and ban end-to-end encryption at the state level.

Remove the Police from Enforcing Morality

header image for remove the police from enforcing morality

The year is 1966, the place is the Tenderloin, Compton’s Cafeteria. A community of queer folx, many of whom were transgender women, sex workers, and drag queens, collectively screamed, “ENOUGH!” The San Francisco Police Department had been abusing and arresting members of this community for years - for being trans, for living as they chose to live, for engaging in sex work. So when an officer was, again, harassing a member of this community, she was so fed up that she threw a cup of coffee in his face. And like that, the smoldering resentment erupted into a riot. Three years prior to Stonewall, San Francisco had its very own LGBTQ+ uprising.

What this demonstrates is the systemic, enduring nature of how police violence impacts the communities we at the Sex-Positive Dems advocate for. Sex workers, and especially Black trans women, are regularly raped by police officers who rarely face consequences. Consensual BDSM is criminalized. Being polyamorous is seen by our legal system as a valid reason to deny parents custody of their children.

We stand with Black, trans, and queer protestors - past and present - who demand an end to police brutality. 

We believe that the police shouldn’t be in the business of enforcing morality. It is not the role of police to decide what people can and can’t do with their bodies, and the bodies of those who consent to interact with them. We believe that significant portions of the massive budgets given to law enforcement agencies across this nation, and specifically in San Francisco, must be diverted towards social programs committed to harm reduction. Programs like our friends at St. James Infirmary, which provide resources and health services to trans women of color and sex workers.

The narrative must shift away from a system that imagines punishment keeps us safe, to one that takes into account the root of most public safety issues: poverty, and the lack of investment in many communities. This includes expanding access to social workers, and having first responders who are trained in handling encounters that involve those with mental health barriers and challenges. Relying on police officers to function this way, as we do now, endangers everyone involved.

We support efforts to defund the police by Mayor London Breed and Supervisor Shamann Walton who, on June 4, 2020, announced they would redirect funding from the San Francisco Police Department and San Francisco Sheriff’s Department to the African American community to the tune of $120 Million over the next 2 years. This reinvestment represents a positive step in the national movement to reframe our approach to public safety. 

Additionally, we acknowledge that our membership and our Board are overwhelmingly White and cis. We are proactively recruiting to diversify our Board, and ask anyone who is not White and/or cis who might be interested in joining our Club or Board to please reach out to us. You can find us on Facebook and at sfspdc.org.

How to Be the Next Somerville: Sex-Positive Political Organizing 101 panel video

At the 2020 PleasureFest, our own Mark Press and Alex Lazar presented How to Be the Next Somerville: Sex-Positive Political Organizing 101. Amanda Bullington moderated the discussion.

The discussion covered the current context of political activism for non-monogamous and other sex-positive issues as well as legislative and electoral approaches to passing law and how to organize coalitions and lobby elected officials, with the goal of providing the tools for folx to organize in their local communities. 

Check out the video for the full discussion.