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Why doesn’t Facebook recognize polyamory?

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Reut/Yara Nardi
“In an open relationship” doesn’t accurately describe the situations of some polyamorous people.
  • Sarah Todd
By Sarah Todd

Senior reporter, Quartz and Quartz at Work

Published

People who want to share their relationship status on Facebook have a bevy of options to choose from, from the classics (“single,” “in a relationship,” “married”) to more nuanced labels like “it’s complicated” or “in an open relationship.” But if you’re polyamorous, there’s no accurate descriptor available—nor is there a way to tag more than one person as your partner.

A new open letter to Meta, organized by the recently founded nonprofit Organization for Polyamory & Ethical Non-monogamy (OPEN), says that needs to change. “All users of the Facebook App should have the right to indicate all of their romantic and intimate partners, without limit,” says the letter, which was signed by 11 leaders in advocacy for polyamorous rights and sexual positivity and freedom. The letter also says that Facebook should allow people to choose more than one relationship status if applicable.

The stakes of the issue go far beyond status updates, says Diana Adams, one of the letter’s signatories and the executive director of the Chosen Family Law Center, which advocates on behalf of LGBTQ and polyamorous families as well as people in other alternative family structures.

“It’s important for Meta to recognize non-monogamous relationships on its platform because openness about relationship structure reduces social stigma,” says Adams. “We know from history that when there are positive depictions around us and people feel safe to come out, and we realize people we know and care about are in marginalized communities, that has ripple effects for civil and legal rights.”

In other words, giving polyamorous people the technical ability to authentically represent their relationships wouldn’t just increase their visibility. In helping to dispel all-too-common negative stereotypes about polyamory, such a move from Meta could open the door to greater societal and legal recognition of families outside the traditional nuclear model.

Meta did not immediately respond to Quartz’s request for comment.

Is polyamory becoming more mainstream?

An estimated 4-5% of adults in the US are involved with polyamory or another form of ethical non-monogamy. The big difference between polyamory and open relationships is that the former involves forming intimate romantic relationships with multiple partners, while the latter typically means that a couple has one primary partnership as well as the freedom to date or have sex with others.

In many ways, the internet has proven to be a boon for practitioners of non-monogamy. Dating apps like OkCupid allow people to find others looking for non-monogamous relationships, as do more specialized dating apps like Feeld. Scheduling apps like Google Calendar are salvation for people who need to coordinate with multiple partners, while platforms like TikTok give content creators the means to spread the word about ethical non-monogamy.

As more people open up about polyamory, the law is evolving, too. In 2017, for example, a California judge granted parenting rights to three men in a joint partnership; the same year, three men in a polyamorous relationship were legally married in Colombia.

Adams’ Chosen Family Law Center has also been involved with recent efforts to legalize polyamorous domestic partnerships in the US. In 2020 and 2021, the Massachusetts cities of Cambridge and Somerville became the first in the US to pass ordinances conferring the rights of domestic partnerships to people with multiple partners.

But Adams emphasizes that there’s still ample discrimination against people who practice non-monogamy, a group that is not a legally protected class in the US. “You can absolutely be fired from your job or denied an apartment rental or denied child custody because you’re in a consensually non-monogamous relationship,” they explain.

That means coming out as polyamorous still involves very real risks. But the more companies like Meta signal their acceptance of alternative family and relationship structures, Adams suggests, the more everyone who falls outside the narrow mold of heterosexual, monogamous marriage—including single people, people in same-sex partnerships, and people who put friendship rather than romance at the center of their lives—stand to gain.

“We all have interests in common,” Adams says. “The rights of one are the rights of all of us.”

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