Following Threat of ACLU of Virginia Lawsuit, Manassas Suspends Ordinance That Limit Right of Family Members to Live Together

Affiliate: ACLU of Virginia
January 5, 2006 12:00 am

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RICHMOND, VA –Shortly after the the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia announced plans to mount a legal challenge, the City of Manassas suspended enforcement of the new ordinance that prevents aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, great-grandparents, or great-grandchildren from living together as a family unit, the ACLU announced today.

“This was the right and responsible decision for Manassas officials to make,” said ACLU of Virginia Executive Director Kent Willis, who noted that large number of rights groups were coming together to challenge the ordinance.

In announcing its legal opposition to the ordinance yesterday, the ACLU of Virginia called the policy an unconstitutional government infringement on the right of family members to live together and said that it was being enforced largely, if not solely, against Latino families.

“The ordinance was anti-family because it undermined long-held cultural traditions regarding how families function, and it was anti-Constitution in that it gave the government extraordinary power to interfere with the personal, private decisions made by families about how they will function as a unit,” said Willis.

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,” and no more than one of them may live together.

In 1977 in the case of Moore v. City of East Cleveland, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a similar ordinance. That ordinance permitted only the parents and children of the head of household, and one dependent 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, 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.”

“We still have work to do,” added Willis. “The suspension of the ordinance is only temporary, and it is not clear what step Manassas officials will be taking next. We will certainly be urging them to repeal it.”

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