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Friday, August 04, 2006

Black Jack's War on Moms Continues

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Back in April, I wrote about Olivia Shelltrack's and Fondray Loving's battle with the town of Black Jack, MO (A Law against Unwed Motherhood). At that time, this was the story, as reported by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:

Olivia Shelltrack finally has her dream home. Her family moved into the five-bedroom, three-bath frame house in Black Jack last month. But now she fears she and her fiance face uprooting their children because of a city ordinance that says her household fails to meet Black Jack's definition of a family.

Shelltrack and Fondray Loving, her boyfriend of 13 years, were denied an occupancy permit because of an ordinance forbidding three or more individuals from living together if they are not related by "blood, marriage or adoption." The couple have three children, ages 8, 10 and 15, although Loving is not the biological father of the oldest child.

"I was basically told, you can have one child living in your house if you're not married, but more than that, you can't," she said.

A lot of people saw this as a law mandating marriage - which it basically is. The story got national press and the town of Black Jack didn't get a lot of love in the court of public opinion. In March, USA Today reported that the ACLU had taken up the case.

A suburb of St. Louis faces a lawsuit from the American Civil Liberties Union after it voted to deny residency to an unmarried couple and their children.

The City Council of Black Jack, Mo., voted Tuesday not to broaden a regulation on how many unrelated people can live together.

See, being given the opportunity to rectify the antiquated law, the city council chose not to. Council member Norma Mitchell pretty much summed up the thoughts of the board during an appeal. St. Louis Post-Dispatch again:

At the hearing, Shelltrack said, one board of adjustment member, Norma Mitchell, even pointed at her and asked, "I don't understand why you as a woman didn't exercise your right to marry that man," before being hushed by another board member.

Mitchell refused to comment. She referred all calls to Black Jack Mayor Norman McCourt, who defended the ordinance.

At that time, McCourt defended the decision. "This is about the definition of family, not if they're married or not," he said. "It's what cities do to maintain the housing and to hold down overcrowding." Of course, it is about whether they're married or not - that's the only thing it's about.

Earlier this week, Mayor McCourt seems to have had a change of heart. "Defining the word "family" isn't as easy as getting out the Webster's Dictionary or looking it up on Wikipedia. Just ask Black Jack officials who once again will reconsider the city's definition of a family," the Post-Dispatch reported yesterday, "During a special meeting July 25, Mayor Norm McCourt proposed a bill that, if approved, would enable unmarried couples to obtain an occupancy permit regardless of the number of children they have."

McCourt would add this paragraph to the town's definition of a family:

Two unrelated individuals having a child or children related by blood, adoption or foster care relationship to both such individuals, plus the biological, adopted or foster children of either such individual, living together as a single non-profit housekeeping unit in a dwelling unit.

According to the SLPD article, "McCourt said the planning and zoning commission was expected to consider the proposal at its July 26 meeting. However, the commission did not have a quorum. The commission typically meets on the fourth Wednesday each month but could call a special meeting before then." So, no action so far.

Given the attitude of council members like Norma Mitchell, Shelltrack and Loving shouldn't hold their breath.



Disenchanted Dave said...

I'm going to live in MO starting this fall. It should be an interesting place. I wrote about Black Jack's law and some of their other messed up ideas a while back.

joefromkansas said...

What is an occupancy permit? I've lived in this country for fifty-five years, and this is the first time I've heard the term. Aren't we allowed to live where we want and can afford to?

Anonymous said...

This definitely violates fail housing laws. She should contact HUD.