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.

#SinglesAreHumanToo

Links:

  • https://www.csmonitor.com/USA/Society/2015/0614/Singles-nation-Why-so-many-Americans-are-unmarried
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Single_person

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