We are family ... not

Missouri City Council affirms ordinance denying residence to unmarried couple.

Published May 17, 2006 6:04PM (EDT)

Remember the Shelltrack-Lovings? They're the Missouri family -- a loaded word in this context -- who were denied a home occupancy permit because the parents, partners of 13 years, are not married. Why the denial? Because the city of Black Jack, where they'd found a dream home for their three kids, has -- and enforces -- a city ordinance prohibiting more than three unrelated people from living together. As Broadsheet reported last March, the Planning and Zoning Commission was reviewing the ordinance and would make a recommendation to the City Council for a subsequent vote.

Well, vote the council did, just last night. Despite enormous public outcry, pressure by the ACLU, a possible investigation by the Department of Housing and Urban Development -- and the zoning commission's recommendation that "two unrelated individuals having a child or children related by blood, adoption or foster care relationship to both such individuals" be allowed to live together -- the City Council voted 5-3 against adjusting the ordinance to make room for the family.

"I'm just shocked," Olivia Shelltrack told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "I really thought this would all be over, and we could go on with our lives. She added: "It's a shame that ... people can sit up there and judge you." (Not that it should matter, but the couple is engaged; they chose to save for their home in Black Jack before saving for a wedding.)

City residents interviewed said assorted silly things, such as: "As a woman, I'm not going to let a man have babies by me and not marry me. I think it was a fair decision" and (to USA Today) "They've gotten into a situation and it doesn't fit them. So their solution is, change the situation. That's not an adult approach."

Black Jack Mayor Norman McCourt issued the following statement: "The purpose of these occupancy permit laws generally is to avoid overcrowding by non-related parties, assure the lifelong maintenance of the city's housing stock, prevent new buyers from being obligated to repair residences that were not kept up to code, preserve the character of the neighborhoods and the city, and to protect the general safety and welfare of the city's residents." Mm-hmm. Also, did we mention that it appears that Shelltrack is white and Loving is black? I don't know how common mixed-race families are in Black Jack. If they're not common, I'm guessing -- honestly, just guessing -- that that didn't help the couple's case either.

No word yet on whether the family, and I do mean family, will be evicted from their home.

By Lynn Harris

Award-winning journalist Lynn Harris is author of the comic novel "Death by Chick Lit" and co-creator of BreakupGirl.net. She also writes for the New York Times, Glamour, and many others.

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