ACLU of Virginia Approves Lawsuit Challenging Manassas Ordinance That Limits Right of Family Members to Live Together

Affiliate: ACLU of Virginia
January 4, 2006 12:00 am

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Widespread Opposition is Seen to Policy That Undermines Families and Targets Minorities

RICHMOND, VA — The America Civil Liberties Union of Virginia today announced that it will support a legal challenge to a City of Manassas ordinance that prevents aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, great-grandparents, or great-grandchildren from living together as family unit.

“No one is saying that Manassas can’t reasonably regulate the number of people living together for health and safety purposes,” said ACLU of Virginia Executive Director Kent Willis, “but the government has no right to tell me that my aunt or nephew can’t live under the same roof with me.”

Manassas city officials have stated that the purpose of the ordinance is to cut back on illegal immigrants, but the ACLU said that the ordinance is an unconstitutional government infringement on the right of family members to live together and that it is being used to target families based on their nationality.

Many civil rights and civil liberty organizations have expressed outrage over the ordinance. The ACLU of Virginia says it expects to work with other groups, both local and national, to eliminate the policy.

“This is not only a frontal attack on families in general, but more particularly on minority families,” said Willis. “Under the pretext of fighting illegal immigrants, the City of Manassas has declared war on its Latino population, because that is who is bearing the brunt of this ordinance.”

Under the Manassas ordinance, a “family” is, “Two or more persons related to the second degree of collateral consanguinity by blood, marriage, adoption or guardianship…. living and cooking together as a single housekeeping unit, exclusive of not more than one additional nonrelated person.”

In short, parents, grandparents, children, grandchildren, and siblings can live under the same roof, but aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, great-grandparents, or great-grandchildren are not considered “family.”
In 1977 in the case of Moore v. City of East Cleveland, the United States Supreme Court struck down a similar ordinance. That ordinance permitted only the parents and children of the head of household, and one child of the head of the household, their spouse and dependent children to reside together. The Court held that the restrictive definition of “family” violated the substantive due process clause of the Constitution, noting that the protection of family relationships extended beyond the nuclear family.

In his decision, Justice Lewis Powell, Jr. wrote, “The tradition of uncles, aunts, cousins, and especially grandparents sharing a household along with parents and children has roots equally venerable and equally deserving of constitutional recognition.”

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