Monogamy Zoning

Single-Family Zoning and the Exclusion of Polyamorous Relationship Groups

Polyamory is a form of consensual nonmonogamy in which a person may have multiple committed romantic relationships simultaneously with the knowledge and agreement of all participants. Some polyamorous relationship groups consider themselves families, cohabitate, and raise children together. Despite a growing legal trend towards acknowledgment of such relationship and family structures, people in polyamorous relationships still face much discrimination and numerous legal obstacles. Among the most concerning of legal obstacles are those that make it difficult to find a place to call home.

Zoning laws limit what kinds of structures can be built in particular zones and to what uses they can be put. One common zoning classification that applies to the majority of residential real estate in the United States is single-family zoning. Single-family zoning criteria limit each property to housing one family and define families along lines of blood, marriage, or financial and housekeeping structures.

The Supreme Court has decided two major cases on definitions of family in zoning ordinances, Village of Belle Terre v. Boraas and Moore v. City of East Cleveland. In Village of Belle Terre, the Court held that a zoning ordinance excluding a group of unrelated student roommates from its definition of family did not implicate fundamental rights and did not violate the Constitution. In Moore, the Court held that a zoning ordinance excluding a multigenerational extended family from its definition of family did implicate fundamental rights and could not survive strict scrutiny. Between these two holdings is a gray area. Where do zoning laws defining family in ways which exclude polyamorous relationship groups fall?

This Note analyzes this question and concludes that fundamental rights of polyamorous people are implicated by restrictive single-family zoning criteria, necessitating the application of a strict scrutiny standard of review that underinclusive and overinclusive zoning ordinances cannot survive. This Note therefore urges local governments to adopt antidiscrimination measures that would prevent the discriminatory application of single-family zoning ordinances against polyamorous relationship groups.

a. J.D. Candidate, 2023, University of Illinois College of Law; B.A., 2020, University of Florida. Thank you to the members and editors of the University of Illinois Law Review for working so diligently to help bring this Note to fruition. Special thanks to Professor Jacob S. Sherkow and Margaret Whalen for their feedback and suggestions throughout the process. I would like to dedicate this Note to my mother, Rita; my Aunt Mary and Uncle Mark; my sisters, Christine and Emily; and all the loved ones who have supported me along the way.

The full text of this Note is available to download as a PDF.