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Confusion arises when polyamory is misapplied in a broader sense, as an umbrella term for various forms of consensual non-monogamous, multi-partner relationships (including polyamory), or consensual non-exclusive sexual or romantic relationships.
In 1999, Zell-Ravenheart was asked by the editor of the OED to provide a definition of the term, and had provided it for the UK version as The practice, state or ability of having more than one sexual loving relationship at the same time, with the full knowledge and consent of all partners involved.
Although many sources define polyamory as a sexual and/or romantic relationship practice or form, the North American version of the OED declares it a philosophy or state, and some believe that it should be classified an orientation or identity (like sexual orientation or gender identity).
Areas of difference arise regarding the degree of commitment, such as in the practice of casual sexual activities, and whether it represents a viewpoint or a relational status quo (i.e., whether a person without current partners should be considered "polyamorous").
As yet, there is no case law applicable to these issues.
Having multiple non-marital partners, even if married to one, is legal in most U. jurisdictions; at most it constitutes grounds for divorce if the spouse is non-consenting, or feels that the interest in a further partner has destabilized the marriage.
With only minor exceptions no developed countries permit marriage among more than two people, nor do the majority of countries give legal protection (e.g., of rights relating to children) to non-married partners.
The practice of engaging in closed polyamorous relationships is sometimes called to indicate a hierarchy of different relationships or the place of each relationship in a person's life.
At the 2014 General Assembly, two UUPA members moved to include the category of "family and relationship structures" in the UUA's nondiscrimination rule, along with other amendments; the package of proposed amendments was ratified by the GA delegates.
Bigamy is the act of marrying one person while already being married to another, and is legally prohibited in most countries in which monogamy is the cultural norm.
Accordingly, they include parallel entitlements, obligations, and limitations.
Among the latter, as in the case of the New Zealand Civil Union Act 2005, there are parallel prohibitions on civil unions with more than one partner, which is considered bigamy, or dual marriage/civil union hybrids with more than one person.
A person with polyamorous relationships may also engage in swinging and other open relationships.