Beauties & Beaties

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

A Family Affair

Recently, an unmarried couple (with children) in the St. Louis area made national news when the city they lived in refused to grant them an occupancy permit. Why? Because the couple did not qualify under a city ordinance that defines "family".

The ordinance says, in effect, that Olivia Sheltrack and Fondrey Loving, and their three children, should not be living together in the same house because the two are not married. (Source: KSDK)

The couple took the issue to the city council, who upheld the ordinance by a 5-3 vote.

The question is: Should this unmarried couple with children be less entilted to the same rights extended to those in a "traditional" family. I'll try do my best as Bruce weighs in with his Beastly debut!

He Says: The issue before us, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, is whether or not unmarried couples have fewer rights than married couples. The simple answer is yes; whether it's right or wrong is the real question here. Even common-law marriages come out on the short end of the stick; only nine states, and the District of Columbia, recognize common-law marriages, and four others have some sort of limited statute.

The town of Black Jack, Missouri says it's occupancy statute is on the books to help alleviate "overcrowding" in single family homes. Bullshit. The statute is there to legislate their own morality on the residents of Black Jack, and they're not the only ones playing Big Brother these days. Couples "living in sin" are often looked at as degenerates and undeserving of the same rights as legally married couples. Does a piece of paper really mean that much? Should it?
Personally, I don't think so, but then again, I'm a bit jaded because of where I live, and what I've seen and heard from the so-called moral right.

This is not 1620 and the time of the Puritans. It's the 21st century, people, and we are supposed to be an advanced and free society. If my lady and I were living together, and we went out and bought a house, what difference does it make whether we're married or not? Would the city be afraid that we were going to disturb the peace in the neighborhood by throwing wild parties and having endless orgies, just because we aren't married(not that that doesn't sound enticing, but that's for another day)? It all boils down to one thing; trying to legislate morality. And I'll be damned if some sanctimonious, self-righteous group of old farts are going to tell me how to live my life.

She Says : The question being posed here is whether or not the unmarried couple with children has less rights than those residents with children that are married. Skirting the issue a bit, I would say as parents, they have equal rights; regardless of marital status, a parent is a parent and should be treated as such. Unfortunately, this is not a parenting issue. As an unmarried's clear that they do not have the same benefits as those that are married, and that is simply due to a choice that they have made.

I understand that marriage isn't what it used to be. Almost anyone can get married (I said almost; we'll save that topic for later). Making that commitment entitles you to certain rights, including taxes and divorce attorneys. It entitles you to be designated, in this instance, as "family". So it's natural to assume that married couples would be entitled to somewhat more; they've made that commitment and they are legally bound to one another.

I had the initial reaction to this story that many people had. I was outraged. The absurdity of this city council, the audacity of this small-minded community to actually deny this couple, a family in spirit if not in ordinance, the right to dwell in their crappy little town.

What it boils down to in this particular instance, though, was a zoning ordinance. The city put a safeguard in place for single family residences to prevent multiple people congregating in a household. In essence, there were too many "unrelated" people living in the house together. This is something the city has put in place to protect their citizens and property owners. It wasn't meant to single out unmarried couples, but because of the nature of their relationship, they fall into the same category as strangers. There is nothing legally or biologically binding the two people together in any sort of relationship.

So, all they have to do is get married and I believe the problem is solved. And maybe they don't want to get married; that's their decision. That also means they need to find a different place to live. If the couple wants to be pissed at somebody, they should be pissed at their real estate agent for not understanding the city ordinances.

I don't believe this is some sort of moral policing in any way. It's unfortunate for the couple, but they can make the decision to do what it would take to stay, or do what they've always done and leave. There have to be laws, ordinances and rules. And they have to be willing to make a decison and accept the consequences.


Blogger angel, jr. said...

They are a family, because they chose to become one. They love and care for one another. A family should not be defined based on laws, but on love. (that Oprah moment was brought to you by Girl Scout cookies and the high I'm on after eating a couple of them).

9:12 PM  
Blogger :P fuzzbox said...

First off I would like to say that both Bruce and Siren gave convincing arguments in their posts. As odious as this law is it is the law. The town looks like a bunch of backwards hicks for having this law but the members of the city council were only doing what they were elected to do and that is uphold the will of the people. If this town wishes to change the law then it should hold an election and do so.

A marraige liscense may be just a piece of paper but it is a legally binding one. Rightly of Wrongly, it does give a couple certain rights that those without this little slip of paper.

10:03 PM  
Blogger Pixie said...

Whilst I agree they are indeed a family, and to me its somewhat of a silly law. but saying that I do think that married couples should get certain tax breaks etc otherwise whats the point of getting married ? Assuming that you are not religious.
WP married me for the sole reason it made it a lot easier for me to stay in the country, had I been an american I doubt that he would of.
Which is great for me because I am one of those silly sorts of people who feel more "secure" with a little slip of paper issued by the courthouse.
From what I see (uk included) there seems little incentive to marry these days. I guess its just the way society is changing, whether its for the better though I don't know.

12:08 AM  
Blogger Curare_Z said...

Great job on your debut Bruce! And Siren, you're eloquent and convincing as always.

Why didn't the parents put the house in the children's names? Then anyone living in the house, if related to the children, would fit into the "family" definition.

Sorry -- it's the sneaky lawyer in me coming out.

I think its bullshit to legislate how people live, to be honest with you. While I agree with Fuzz -- a law is a law -- this "multiple unrelated people living in one household" ban is one law I've never understood. As long as those people are paying the going rate for the property and maintaining it by community standards...who cares how many live there?

3:06 AM  
Blogger Blonde Vigilante said...

Those people had a crappy realtor...bottom line.

It isn't a law that governs the whole town, just one development, and the realtor should have known this.

I see instances all the time where 10-20 people are living in a residence that should only occupy 5-6 people sometimes less. I think that is the kind of thing the ordinance was trying to stop. Law is black and white. It doesn't allow for shades of gray. It is called justice for a reason. If you let one person do something, then you've set a precedence that would allow everyone else to do it as well.

My father and stepmother (before they were married) wanted to buy a house. My father was going to get a loan through the Veterans Association (VA), but found out they had to be married for both of them to be on the mortgage. Was the VA discriminating against them? No, they were protecting their interests.

I’ve lived in neighborhoods where you couldn’t paint your house the same color as your next door neighbor. Is that discrimination? Is that wrong? No, because when I moved into the neighborhood those were the rules/laws. That’s the bottom line.

7:18 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My hat's off to Bruce; I thought he did a really fantastic job with this.

8:52 AM  
Blogger Crazy Dan said...

Good job Bruce why to keep the beast side strong by talking about orgies. Laws were meant to be broken now that the city council did not agree with the the next step is court. By getting the court to decide this case it will rule on all precidents not only in the state but in the country. By doing this they change the law to help not only themselves but others. Fuck the City!

9:10 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just can't get over this one!I thought it was 2006, not 6.

10:13 AM  
Anonymous Bruce said...

Thanks folks....
I'm what you might call an anti-establishmentarian; that's one reason why I took the stance I did. I guess it stems from having been a teenager during the 60s.

12:03 PM  
Anonymous irreverentmama said...

It could be the realtor didn't know they weren't married. I'm not married to my partner of ten years, and I'll tell you, it didn't even occur to me this was a relevant bit of information when we bought our house two years ago. If our realtor had asked, I'd probably have been annoyed: WTF makes it your business? (Though of course I understand he'd only be doing his job. It's still a nervy thing to ask.) What does city council do, look for a marriage license before selling a house? Bizarre.

I read a couple of articles that suggested that perhaps the objection was more than a dumb by-law, but was motivated by racism: she's white and he's black. I also wonder if it mightn't be a way to legislate against gay couples.

Whatever its origins and rationale, it's an incredibly retrogressive law, and should be erased from the lawbooks. Hopefully the people of that place will be properly humiliated by the publicity and change it asap.

6:38 PM  
Blogger Ranea said...

What gives these people the right to tell anyone how to live their lives or define a family?

People in glass houses...

12:01 PM  
Blogger Crazy Dan said...

This is a comment in hopes that you can help Fuzz with his problem we are holding an intervention for him any help would be tremendous. I know that you visit his blog at times and I hope with the help of friends we can get him the treatment he needs.

11:15 AM  
Anonymous mojotek said...

I agree with both of you! Legislating morality is a bastardization of government... and this is a prime example. Very sad that these types of things would be written into statutes.

1:05 PM  
Blogger David Amulet said...

Well answered, both. Methinks we have a resurgence of libertarianism in the works!

-- david

6:54 PM  
Blogger RAVEN the PITA said...

Im with ya Ranea!

11:57 PM  
Blogger Matt TheHat said...

If she is related to the children then they can live with her, if he is related to his children then he can live with them. How is this law written in a way that excludes these biological relationships?!
BTW, just because it is law doesn't mean it's right nor does it mean it should be followed. There are supposed to be safeguards in place to protect minorities from "the will of the people". Those safeguards have gone the way of the dodo these days as more and more morality laws are written and/or starting to be enforced again.

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