NEW YORK (ChurchMilitant.com) - A judge is recognizing the legal rights of a polyamorous union in a tenant dispute.
In the case of West 49th St., LLC v. O'Neill, New York civil court Judge Karen Bacdayan, concluded late last month that polyamorous relationships are entitled to the same legal protection as two-person relationships.
In her ruling, the judge questioned, "Why does a person have to be committed to one other person in only certain prescribed ways in order to enjoy stability in housing after the departure of a loved one?"
Scott Anderson passed away last October, leaving behind his civil so-called husband, Robert Romano. They lived in separate apartments. Anderson lived with Markyus O'Neill.
O'Neill claimed he had a right to renew the lease at the end of December 2021, but the building owner sought to evict him. The owner claimed O'Neill was just a "roommate who is not entitled to a lease in his own name as a nontraditional family member."
The building owner's attorney contrasted Romano's and O'Neill's affidavits.
Romano gave concrete details of a long-term relationship. Romano and Anderson were "life partners" for 25 years. The pair frequently traveled together and were present at each other's family events, but never with O'Neill. They shared cell phone plans, credit cards and bank accounts. Romano shared old photographs with detailed descriptions. He noted they "formed a life together, yet kept [their] own apartments in order to provide [them] comfort and space."
Romano was not friends with O'Neill, and O'Neill didn't offer much evidence of a relationship, leading the building owner's attorney to call O'Neill's account "a fairytale."
According to O'Neill's "fairytale" affidavit, he and Anderson "hit it off immediately." He added that they "became more than friends and more than close, despite [Anderson] being in another relationship." O'Neill moved into the apartment in 2011, agreeing to "keep [their] relationship quiet and discreet." Rather than sharing a bank account, he paid Anderson in cash for the rent. He claims to have eventually deposited money into Anderson's and Romano's joint bank account. O'Neill was never invited to Anderson's parents' home when he went to visit.
During a hearing in a New York City eviction court, Judge Karen Bacdayan ruled that "the existence of a triad should not automatically dismiss respondent's claim to noneviction protections." She looked to previous cases like Braschi v. Stahl Assocs. Co., 74 NY2d 201 (1989) and Obergefell v. Hodges (2015). Even though both deemed that LGBTQ unions are entitled to legal recognition, they are limited to two-person relationships.
She explained her thought process:
Why then, except for the very real possibility of implicit majoritarian animus, is the limitation of two persons inserted into the definition of a family-like relationship for the purposes of receiving the same protections from eviction accorded to legally formalized or blood relationships? Is "two" a "code word" for monogamy? Why does a person have to be committed to one other person in only certain prescribed ways in order to enjoy stability in housing after the departure of a loved one?
She later noted that these decisions "open the door for consideration of other relational constructs; and, perhaps, the time has arrived."
In this one case, polyamorous unions were granted legal protection. However, this ruling is not binding legal precedent outside of the court's jurisdiction. For now, there is little practical effect outside of this specific case.
This ruling could be challenged and make its way up through the court system, as other rulings have. It doesn't seem far-fetched to envision a near future where other states or even the nation recognize this type of relationship.