Marry or get out, mostly Catholic Missouri town tells unwed parents
BLACK JACK, Missouri, may 23, 2006 ( www.breitbart.com) - A small American town is facing accusations of seeking to drive unmarried couples with children out of town on grounds they do not fit the local definition of a family.
The brewing controversy in Black Jack, a town of 6,800 in the central state of Missouri, began unfolding earlier this year when Olivia Shelltrack and Fondray Loving were denied an occupancy permit after moving into a four-bedroom house they had purchased.
Local officials told the couple that the fact they were not married and had three children, one from Shelltrack's previous relationship, did not fit the town's definition of "family".
A Black Jack ordinance prohibits more than three people from living together in a single family home unless they are related by "blood, marriage or adoption".
The couple were then left with the option of getting married, packing their bags and leaving town, or putting up a fight, which is what they decided to do.
"I think the city wants to send a clear message that they don't want children born out of wedlock," Shelltrack told AFP in a phone interview. "It has become a moral issue for them.
"They see family in a certain way and that's the only acceptable way."
Shelltrack, 31, said she and Loving, her partner of 13 years, never imagined when they moved to Black Jack from Minnesota in January that a legal nightmare awaited them.
"We though the occupancy permit was a housing code issue, that an inspector would come by and check the house," Shelltrack said. "But we figured something was wrong when they asked for the children's birth certificates and a marriage certificate."
She said the family has received a lot of support from neighbors and local residents, many of whom are baffled by what they consider an archaic law.
Sheldon Stock, the town's attorney, told AFP there were no plans to evict the couple after the City Council earlier this month rejected a measure that would have changed the definition of a family to include unmarried couples with two or more children.
Nonetheless, he said, Shelltrack and Loving would have to abide by the law or face fines and a court battle.