Provo: Welcome Home (Unless Single)

The city of Provo, Utah, has undertaken a campaign to reduce the number of single people living in its boundaries, to limit the number of singles living in existing housing, and to prevent additional housing for singles from being built.

It’s not too far off from singles-cide.

Imagine if this were done to any other group—Catholics, Asians, lesbians, etc. How would it look for a city to have an explicit policy of limiting and reducing the numbers of Catholics, Asians, or lesbians in its borders? It would be an outrage.

But somehow when it comes to unmarried individuals, it’s accepted, enshrined in city ordinances and state and federal law. Somehow discrimination against single people is seen as okay.

Well, it isn’t okay. It’s wrong. We’re people, too. Adults. Productive employees. Contributing members of congregations and communities.

In fact, over half of American adults are single.

Most of us get that marriage has a stabilizing effect on society. In fact, most of us would love to be married. But the reality is that people are getting married later—staying single for longer. And yet we’re treated like our equal right to housing and employment isn’t valid, simply because we aren’t married.

This needs to change.

Provo, for example, defines zoning restrictions that limit households consisting of singles to no more than three adults. Married people face no such restrictions—as long as people are related by blood or marriage or adoption there can be as many adults as they can cram in the house—plus up to two completely unrelated individuals. But when the household consists only of single adults (plus dependent children if any) the limit is a firm three individuals. The justifications given for this difference are thus:

  1. Singles in the neighborhood make for fewer friends for the married folks’ kids.
  2. Singles in the neighborhood all have cars and lead to an overflow of available on-street parking, potentially preventing emergency services and garbage services from doing their job.
  3. The ability of landlords to charge rent to numerous singles drives up rents for married families.

Somehow parking and the desire for playmates for children and the hope for cheaper rent are used as a justification for discrimination. But 1) is using legal measures to drive single people out of the neighborhood really going to help your kids? It’s unlikely to lead to more households with kids—just fewer singles living in the households that they already live in. 2) Couldn’t parking be addressed directly such as granting limited on-street parking permits to homeowners? And 3) rents are so high because the city isn’t approving new housing for the people demanding it—singles! Were the housing market allowed to operate without these marital status considerations, that problem would have already solved itself by now.

I spent a while looking into whether Provo City is violating the Utah Fair Housing Act by defining zoning restrictions in terms of marital status. It turns out that the Utah Fair Housing Act never mentions marital status, but prohibits discrimination on the basis of whether one is caring for children. Provo’s code is careful not to discriminate on the basis of whether children are present, but willfully discriminates on the basis of marital status.

And so it would be unlikely for a legal case to go anywhere, given the current law.

This is the real problem: that in an era when age at first marriage has increased substantially and there are more singles as a proportion of the population than ever, it’s completely legal in Utah and in most states for individuals and governments to discriminate on the basis of marital status.

It’s wrong.

It needs to change.

Let’s change it. Now.




Chapter 34: A Time To Mourn

Doing some hiking up Buckley Draw just south of Slate Canyon in Provo

The last year has been a hard one for me. I’ve come to the painful realization that my life in many ways is far from what I wanted. I always wanted to be faithful, but I’m a doubter. Always wanted to be connected, but in many ways I’m a loner.

The dream I sought for years was that I would get past my doubts and finally come to know the truth, come to know that God loves me and that he’s an active part of our lives. But instead of closer to that dream I’m farther away than ever.

My dream was to be firmly ensconced in a loving community, accepted for my contributions, loved in spite of my faults. But I no longer feel I belong where I’d built my life for so long.

My dream was to be married to a woman I loved with all my heart, to be surrounded by children in a home filled with love. But I’m a failure at relationships. I don’t know how to be close to people. Anyone who tries eventual gets pushed away or put at a distance.

My dream was to build a better relationship with my father. But he’s been dead almost three years, and my mom even longer.

A lot of the time I’m fine. I can make life work with its ambiguities and disappointments. But ultimately the pain of these broken dreams comes to the fore and I find myself casting about for an anchor to hold on to.

I’m in one of those times right now. I’ll pull through it. The crisis will recede sooner or later. But still these tensions will remain. I don’t know the long-term answer. I don’t know how to really make life work as a hypersensitive guy who’s struggled all his life, struggled to find a foundation, struggled to stay connected to the people that love him. I don’t know how to finally resolve all the memories, all of the past that I carry around inside of me, the tragedies that still ache for me years removed, for which there is no answer but mourning.

But I suppose that is the answer. Mourning.

How do you go about it? How can any mourning ever be sufficient? How can any tears ever make right entire lives of tragedy?

I don’t know.

But maybe that’s not what tears are for. They don’t make anything right. But they help us to accept that there is injustice in the world. And they help us to let go of the wrong.

Anyway, this is the latest chapter in my life story. It’s not the story I set out to tell. But I guess that’s because I’m not the omniscient narrator: I’m really just a character. And I guess it’s taken 34 chapters for the character development to really come to a head. What will the next chapter bring? I guess we’ll all just have to keep reading.


An American submits his 2017 tax return to the IRS. Err, nevermind, this is from the Netherlands in 1640. (Pieter Brueghel the Younger, The tax collector’s office)

There’s a reason why every year I put off filing my taxes until almost the last possible moment. I usually just chalk it up to my ingrained habit of procrastination, and I’m sure that’s at least part of the story. But the real reason is that paying taxes in the United States is a nightmare.

Repeated TurboTax upsell attempts. Adding up all my Internet purchases so I can pay the Utah state “use” tax (a tax on _using_ things). Navigating a maze of credits, deductions, and ridiculous economic situations I’ve never even heard of but that could land me in hot water if I misunderstand. Did I sell that stock? Was that checkbox checked? Is this box greater than this box plus that box? This is freaking 2017. This whole thing should be automated. An algorithm. You know—computers doing calculations for us, executing well-defined rules for us _so we don’t have to._ Instead every American once a year spends hours and/or a bunch of money on this dance, searching for ways of clawing money back from the government. This isn’t taxation by rule of law—it’s taxation by incomprehensible bureaucratic procedure.

There should be one way to calculate your taxes, something well-defined that a computer can do for you. Something so transparent and straightforward that the IRS just says “You owe this much and this is why” and you say “Yup, that looks right” and click “Pay” or “Refund” and bam, you’re done.

But instead the tax prep industry and Grover Norquist alike lobby congress to keep the whole thing a mess so the status quo will continue: you’ll pay exorbitant sums to make somebody do your taxes for you, and you’ll hate hate hate taxes.

It doesn’t have to be this way. What if it was simple, understandable, and easy? What if it was clear that you were paying your fair share, and that everybody else was, too, and instead of a manual, form-filling, mind-boggling nightmare that mashes 1950s technology with all the worst of 2010s porkbarrel politics, we had a straightforward, sane, modern tax system we could even say we were proud of?


2017 you guys.