Married couple fights for right to live together

Paul Forziano, 30, and Hava Samuels, 36, married in April 7, but every night they must leave to their separate state-run housing facilities, three miles apart.

Picture of a marriage certificate with two rings on top of it
Will married couple finally get to live together?

This month, the state of New York may finally accommodate their marital relationship and allow them to live together in a nursing home on Riverhead, on Long Island, as reported by Newsday on May 20.

But Forziano and Samuels’ first-of-its kind lawsuit challenging the state’s treatment of married couples with disabilities, filed in federal court in January, will continue.

“This is a case that is moving into uncharted territory,” law professor Jonathan Turley of George Washington University told the Associated Press. “If a state licenses the couple to be married, they are afforded all of the protections and privileges of marriage. The most fundamental right is to be able to live together as a married couple.”

The lawsuit represents a challenge of the extent to which states are required to accommodate individuals in state housing facilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act, which states that “a public entity shall make reasonable modifications in policies, practices, or procedures … to avoid discrimination on the basis of disability.”

The state, however, argues that it cannot require Catholic Health Systems, which runs the facilities where Forziano and Samuels currently live, because the state’s network of nursing homes are not designed to accommodate married couples. According to a letter cited in the lawsuit, the homes “are not staffed or designed to house and supervise married couples or assist married couples with the dynamics of their relationships, sexual or otherwise,” as reported by the Associated Press.

Additionally, the state argues that the facilities’ policies in regard to Forziano and Samuels are justified because it believes that Samuels does not have the mental capacity to consent to sex.

But for some disability advocates, the state’s view represents an antiquated view of the lives of people with disabilities.

“No one has a right to tell an adult what they can do. Sex is a healthy and full part of the human experience. I know it makes some people uncomfortable to think people with intellectual disabilities are engaging in sexual relations, but I don’t understand that,” Sara Gelser, an Oregon state legislator and member of the National Council on Disability board of directors, told the Associated Press.