Wednesday, May 24, 2006

"If you're not married you can't live here" - Missouri council

This is straying into "you couldn't make it up" territory. The town (which calls itself a "city" for some reason) of Black Jack, Missouri, USA has a law, recently confirmed by the local council, which bans unmarried couples with more than one child from occupying homes there. One such couple is facing fines of £270 a day for continuing to live in such a situation.

I can feel one of my headaches coming on. I suppose this item falls into the same bracket as the confederate flag only just recently ceasing to fly over the South Carolina capitol, and Japanese soldiers, gun in hand, emerging blinking into the sunlight from the jungle thirty years after the war. The worrying side to the situation is that the relevant law, it is said, was originally intended for housing purposes. It is reportedly to prevent overcrowding and, for example, prevent student lodgings houses springing up in some districts. It is now being used to enforce a moral code. This seems absurd. It is as if the local council are trying to hold back the hands on the clock to stop time moving on. That is ultimately a futile venture. Your arms ache in the end and the hands of time still move on.

It is amazing that such a furore can emanate from a town of just shy of 7,000 inhabitants where the relevant vote on the council was carried by a 5-3 majority. Apparently, the law is in place in 80 other towns in the area but it is generally not enforced.

It demeans the sanctity of marriage to turn it into a qualification for residence.

The elected council have a right to keep in place an ordnance. One does wonder whether such an ordnance would stand up to scrutiny in the Supreme Court, but perhaps, these days, it would (reportedly it was upheld back in the early 70s). I also have great sympathy with the councillors and people of Black Jack who want this law to be upheld due to, one assumes, deeply-held beliefs. However, I think they are misguided in trying to stamp their moral code on others in such an authoritarian way. Are they really going to fine an ordinary family £270 a day simply for existing in a house they bought? They would have to be mad to do so. It works out at £8,100 a month or £98,550 a year. No family, except for the Bushes or the Rockafellers, could afford that. So, the imposition of such a fine would effectively evict a family from their home. I hope the council are wearing their WWJD ("What would Jesus do?) bands.

You can see a video report on this story from local TV News Channel 5 here.

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