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Marriage and Family, State and City

What does a local rezoning issue have to do with a statewide constitutional amendment? Not much, except both of them involve definitions of familial status.




State-wide definition of marriage

A couple of weeks ago, our state decided to adopt a strict definition of which domestic partners receive legal recognition and all the numerous benefits therein, namely those domestic partners who happen to be one man married to one woman.

Leading up to the election, there was a lot of talk about family. Some purists insist the best family is one made up of loving biological parents and their happy, well-tended kids. Some realists understand that this idealized image of a family is not always reasonable. Sometimes biological parents just aren’t very good parents or very good people. Sometimes a parent dies. Sometimes things just don’t work out the way we plan.  

“Marriage always has been and always will be between one man and one woman” is the primary reason given in support of the amendment, with the “evidence” of homosexuality’s abomination culled from Leviticus. You know, that book of the Bible that Christians so often follow to the letter–the one that says it’s okay to have slaves, as long as they’re from a different nation; not to wear clothes made of more than one fabric; not to cut or shave hair; that people who are blind, lame, or have flat noses can’t approach an altar of God.

Some people fear that individual marriages and the institution as a whole will be hurt by extending the benefits of married couples to unmarried ones, whether same- or opposite-sex. Just like how my right of free speech is denigrated when other people use that same right to say things I disagree with. Wait, no, that doesn’t work. Just like how my right to protest peacefully is made less potent when people I disagree with use that same right. Wait, no, that also doesn’t work. It’s how my right to education is diminished as soon as… no. Just as none of my other human rights are diminished by other people–people whose choices I may not necessarily agree with–being granted those same rights, the same holds true for marriage.

Defining the only legal domestic partnership as a marriage between one man and one woman has changed life for many unmarried couples. Would a more permissive definition, which would allow the same benefits that marriage grants (tax, estate planning, government, medical, employment, and death benefits, to name a few) to people who are not married change life for those who are married, or make their marriages less meaningful? Hard to see how.

City-wide definition of family

Greenville is currently facing a different matter of definition that could have a very large impact throughout the city, and particularly in the university area. Currently, section 9-4-22 of the city’s zoning code, a legal document that establishes how property within the city limits can be used, defines a family as “an individual living alone, or two or more persons related by blood, adoption or marriage, or a group of not more than three unrelated persons living together as a single housekeeping unit in a shared dwelling unit.”

The last part of the definition, the part about a family being no more than three unrelated persons, is now being reevaluated. City staff has been asked to prepare a report on alternatives that would allow more than unrelated people to live in the same residence to present to city council.

Though not the only ones, property owners in the University area face the most direct impact of a change to the occupancy standard, with rental-house owners looking at the greatest benefit since they’d be allowed to rent large houses to more people and therefore make more money.

It is easy to think that changing the current occupancy standard to allow more people to rent houses together would be opening the doors to a University neighborhood hostile to owner-occupation: property prices would be driven up because there would be so much money to be made from renting to large numbers of people, cars would be parked everywhere, trash would be unbridled, it would be noisy, and nobody would care about maintaining the appearance of their homes and yards.

A memo from Community Development Department Director Merrill Flood may bring some comfort to those who fear the worst. Resources (like places to park), amenities (like an adequate number of bathrooms), and square footage will be considered as the city looks at alternatives to the current occupancy standard. It looks like the city is not considering an across-the-board overhaul of the current occupancy standard. Rather, the city is looking at options for accommodating owners of large homes with sufficient amenities and resources for supporting more than three unrelated people.

Since the changing of the definition will impact people throughout the city, there are three public feedback sessions scheduled. If you are concerned about the change in occupancy standards, plan to attend one of these meetings so you can share your opinion with city staff. And tell your friends and neighbors! It’s OUR government, participate.

Monday, June 18, 2012 Eppes Recreation Center @ Thomas Foreman Park
Multipurpose Room
400 Nash Street 6:30 PM
Wednesday, June 20, 2012 Recreation & Parks Department building @ Jaycee Park
2000 Cedar Lane 6:30 PM
Wednesday, June 27, 2012 Greenville City Hall
3rd floor gallery
200 West 5th Street 6:30 PM

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