ACLU Challenges Denial of Housing Permit to Unmarried Couple in Black Jack, Missouri

Affiliate: ACLU of Missouri
August 10, 2006 12:00 am

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ST. LOUIS, MO — The American Civil Liberties Union of Eastern Missouri and the ACLU Women’s Rights Project filed a lawsuit today on behalf of a family that was denied a permit to live in the city of Black Jack because of a law that prohibits more than three people from living together unless they are related by “blood, marriage or adoption.”

“The City of Black Jack’s behavior is both pompous and unconstitutional,” said Brenda Jones, Executive Director of the ACLU of Eastern Missouri. “Black Jack’s attempt to criminalize people’s choice to live together as a family has earned international ridicule for Missouri.”

Fondray Loving and Olivia Shelltrack live in a 2,300-square-foot home in Black Jack, a suburb of St. Louis, with their three children. Because Loving is not the biological father of Shelltrack’s oldest child, the city has denied the family an occupancy permit for the home that they purchased. The family now faces fines of up to $500 every week for living in their home without an approved occupancy permit.

Loving and Shelltrack have lived together with Shelltrack’s oldest child, 15-year-old Alexia, for 13 years. Katarina, 10, and Fondray, Jr., 9, are the biological children of both Loving and Shelltrack.

“The government has no business saying two consenting adults cannot live with their own children,” said Tony Rothert, Legal Director of the ACLU of Eastern Missouri. “The town rejected a proposal to change this outmoded law, so we have no choice but to go to court to protect the rights of this family.”

Emily Martin, Deputy Director of the ACLU Women’s Rights Project, noted that a court in North Carolina recently struck down that state’s 201-year-old ban on cohabitation in another case brought by the ACLU. “The government is using housing laws to impose its ideas of morality on residents, but there is nothing moral about denying a home to a family,” she said.

Today’s lawsuit, Loving v. City of Black Jack, filed in the Circuit Court of St. Louis County, challenges the ordinance as a violation of the family’s rights to due process and equal protection under the U.S. Constitution, as well as family status discrimination under fair housing laws. The lawsuit names the City of Black Jack and several city officials as defendants.

Attorneys for the ACLU are Rothert, Martin and Gerald P. Greiman of the law firm Spencer Fane Britt & Browne LLP as cooperating attorney for the ACLU of Eastern Missouri.

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