An unmarried couple in Black Jack, MO filed suit against their hometown last Thursday over an ordinance requiring that co-habituating groups of three or more be related by “blood, marriage, or adoption”. The plaintiffs, Foundray Loving and Olivia Shelltrack, live with their three children in Black Jack, a suburb of St. Louis. Each week, city officials fine the couple up to $500 for violating city law.
“The City of Black Jack’s behavior is both pompous and unconstitutional,” said Brenda Jones, executive director of the ACLU of Eastern Missouri, which is representing the couple. “Black Jack’s attempt to criminalize people’s choice to live together as a family has earned international ridicule for Missouri.”
Loving and Shelltrack were among the many gay and straight couples facing eviction last May when the Black Jack city council voted 5-3 to reject a proposal that would have changed the city’s definition of a legal “family,” to allow non-related individuals, such as domestic partners and their children, to live under the same roof. Mayor Norman McCourt defended the council’s decision, claiming in an official statement that the ordinance was to prevent “overcrowding by non-related parties.” This supposed “overcrowding” law, however, angered Loving and Shelltrack, who live in a 5-bedroom, 2,300-square-foot house. “I refuse to run down to the courthouse and get married just so I can live in my own home,” said Shelltrack, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “We are a family. [My kids] are not children of an unmarried couple, they’re children of two loving parents.”
Similar cohabitation laws exist across the country. According to the ACLU, Florida, Michigan, Mississippi, North Dakota, Virginia and West Virginia have such laws on the state-level. Recently, however, a court North Carolina successfully struck down a cohabitation law similar to Black Jack’s that had previously been in place for 201 years.