Legal Recognition of Plural Unions: Is A Nonmarital Relationship Status the Answer to the Dilemma?

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Intimate relationships involving three or more adults are increasingly visible in American society. Multiparty relationships, which are also known as plural unions, mainly take two different forms: systemic polygyny and polyamory. Family law currently denies recognition to all plural unions. Granting legal recognition to multiparty relationships would advance the goal of family pluralism and expand access to valuable legal protections. However, the possibility of granting official recognition to plural unions must be approached with caution, because systemic polygyny poses a serious risk of harm to women and children arising from the imposition of oppressive gender roles. A possible solution to this dilemma lies in offering a formal nonmarital status (such as civil union, domestic partnership, reciprocal beneficiary, or designated beneficiary) to participants in plural unions. As a result of their differing attitudes toward marriage, polyamorists would be likely to embrace a nonmarital relationship status, while participants in systemic polygyny would most likely reject it. Thus, providing a nonmarital status for plural unions could allow polyamorists to obtain the benefits of relationship recognition, without placing the government's seal of approval on the oppressive aspects of systemic polygyny.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)157-173
Number of pages17
JournalFamily Court Review
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Law


  • Civil Union
  • Domestic Partnership
  • Family Pluralism
  • Marriage
  • Nonmarital Relationships
  • Plural Unions
  • Polyamory
  • Polygamy

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