August 10, 2006

Unwed Missouri couple sues town over housing flap

By Carey Gillam

KANSAS CITY, Missouri (Reuters) - A Missouri couple who
must get married or move in order to comply with a housing
ordinance in Black Jack, Missouri, sued the town on Thursday,
claiming rules prohibiting the unmarried couple and their
children from living together are unconstitutional.

The petition, filed in the Circuit Court of St. Louis
County, challenges a Black Jack city ordinance that prohibits
more than three people from living together in the same house
if they are unrelated by blood, marriage or adoption.

Plaintiffs Olivia Shelltrack and Fondray Loving and their
children moved from Minnesota to Missouri earlier this year,
buying a five-bedroom home in the tiny community outside St.

Shelltrack and Loving have lived together about 13 years
and have two children together, along with a 15-year-old
daughter of Shelltrack's from a previous relationship.

Black Jack, a town of about 7,000 that prides itself on a
city Web site for its "character and stability," refused to
grant the couple and their children an occupancy permit for
their home because they do not meet the definition of "family"
as set forth by the city, the complaint alleges.

The city has threatened to begin fining the couple as much
as $500 a day, said Tony Rothert, legal director of the
American Civil Liberties Union of Eastern Missouri, which is
helping represent the family in the lawsuit.

The lawsuit names the city and several city officials,
including city councilmen and the city housing director as

"The city of Black Jack's behavior is both pompous and
unconstitutional," Brenda Jones, executive director of the ACLU
of Eastern Missouri, said in a statement. "Black Jack's attempt
to criminalize people's choice to live together as a family has
earned international ridicule for Missouri."

Black Jack city attorney Sheldon Stock said case law backed
up the city's stance, which was based on preserving
"neighborhood character."

"It all goes to the definition of family," Stock said.
"These laws are all over the country. These laws are trying to
preserve neighborhood character."

The lawsuit in Missouri comes after a North Carolina judge
ruled last month that a 201-year-old law there barring
unmarried couples from living together was unconstitutional.