Black Jack, MO

Black Jack sign

Is Kansas contagious, or what?

Whatever is wrong with Kansas seems to be spreading to Missouri. There, the citizens of Black Jack have enacted a law that prohibits more than three people living together in the same house unless they are related by blood, marriage, or adoption. As a consequence, Olivia Shelltrack and Fondray Loving face fines of up to $500 per day. Shelltrack and Fondray, who have lived together for more than a dozen years, have two children of their own and a daughter from Shelltrack's previous relationship.

bride and groom

The Shelltrack-Fondrays sound like fine, upstanding people, don't they? A stable relationship, raising three children in a household headed by one man and one woman, and they don't seem to be poor — they could afford to buy a 5-bedroom house. Sound just like the kind of people any town ought to welcome. Nevertheless, they don't meet Black Jack's definition of 'marriage' so they must either get married or move out, according to the City.

Black Jack logo

The 'city' of Black Jack — and when did the term 'city' start applying to a community of only 8000 people, anyway? — takes as its motto "Building for the Future" and the elected town officials "are dedicated to keeping the finest quality of life for the residents and businesses of the City." Apparently 'quality of life' is a very narrow concept in Black Jack, or I should say a very narrow-minded concept.

According to the mayor, occupancy requirements are to: "avoid overcrowding by non-related parties; assure the lifelong maintenance of the cities housing stock; prevent new buyers from being obligated to repair residences that were not kept up to code; preserve the character of the neighborhoods and the City and to protect the general safety and welfare of the City’s residents."

A moment's thought reveals how specious these reasons are.

Overcrowding is a question of number of people per square foot (and how arbitrary is that!) and has nothing to do with the relationship of the people in the space. Using the logic of Black Jack, a married couple with 12 children living in a 600 square-foot house would not be overcrowded, whereas an unmarried couple with 2 children living in the same space would be overcrowded. Is that dumb, or what?

Maintenance of housing stock could mean anything. If it refers to upkeep (repairs, painting, etc), this again has nothing to do with number of occupants. It has everything to do with diligence and responsibility. If it refers to supply of housing units, the requirement actually increases the number of units needed, inasmuch as unrelated people would need to acquire separate domiciles, rather than share.

Protecting new buyers from the need to repair is something the city doesn't have to do. Someone who sets out to buy a house should be fully capable of deciding for themselves whether or not they are willing to undertake whatever repairs are necessary. I wonder — are fixer-upper's not allowed to be sold in Black Jack? Or is Black Jack like Lake Wobegone, where "the women are strong, the men are good looking, and all the children are above average," and all the houses are in mint condition?

Easter egg hunt, 2005

Preserving the character of neighborhoods is really code for keeping out people who aren't just like us. Often that boils down to skin color, but judging from the faces in the photo (right) of the 2005 Easter egg hunt, race may not be the issue.

Many places have out-dated occupancy requirements on the books, left over from previous times when discrimination and persecution were more blatant. In the case of Black Jack, however, this is a relatively modern law enacted in 1985 and reviewed just this year in response to publicity over the Shelltrack-Fondray case. Nope, this isn't a question of anachronism.

All of this notwithstanding, the Shelltrack-Fondray household is related by blood. Shelltrack and Fondray are the biological parents of two of the children, and Shelltrack is the biological mother of the third child.

What this all boils down to is a case of people trying trying to impose their moral and religious beliefs on others, all under the banner of "family" and "traditional" values. The good news is that the ACLU has taken up the case and is challenging Black Jack's law in court. A North Carolina court last month overturned a similar law there last month. Stay tuned!

This isn't 'defense of marriage' — this is 'offense of marriage'!