Mentally Disabled Couple's Legal Battle Ends with New Home
Couple beset by legal troubles and care facilities that refused their wishes.
May 23, 2013 — -- A newly married, mentally disabled couple's dream of living together -- up until now beset by legal troubles and care facilities that refused their wishes -- is about to come true. New York State is providing them with a home of their own.
Paul Forziano, 30, and Hava Samuels, 36, who both have mild to moderate mental disabilities, met seven years ago at a day program run by the Maryhaven Center of Hope, which is part of Catholic Health Services of Long Island. After they met, they immediately began telling their parents about their new friend. It wasn't long before they were calling each other "boyfriend" and "girlfriend."
On April 7, 2012, they married on Long Island's North Shore.
The wedding was initially pushed back because the couple wanted to be able to live together once they were married. So before their big day, their parents began trying to figure a way for the two, who lived in separate group homes three miles apart, to establish a home together.
"They started dating, and gradually got more and more serious about each other," Paul's mother, Roseann Forziano, told ABCNews.com. "Four years ago they started talking about getting married. At the time I didn't know if people with developmental disabilities could be married. So I started doing research."
Forziano said that she "naively" approached the Independent Group Home Living Program (IGHL), which has housed her son since 2009, and asked if this could be facilitated. She told ABCNews.com that the state-sanctioned nonprofit that ran the home told her that the couple would not be allowed to share a living space within the program.
Eventually the families would file a lawsuit in January 2013, claiming that the IGHL, the Maryhaven Center for Hope, where Hava lived, and the state were violating the couple's rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Fair Housing Act and the 14th Amendment.
According to that suit, IGHL's clinical director had concluded that Paul and Hava were not capable of cohabitation. The director stated that if a person "cannot wash, cook, iron, and take care of money for themselves, then that person cannot take care of another person," according to the complaint.
Undeterred by this conclusion, Forziano and her husband decided to research the rights of their son and his wife-to-be. "We went to the law library and looked up regulations," she said. "They said that agencies cannot deny people's civil rights. The state has to regulate the agencies, and ensure that they uphold [Paul and Hava's] civil rights."
Forziano said that she and her future in-laws then had her son and his bride-to-be assessed by psychologists at the YAI Agency in Manhattan to determine whether they were emotionally and mentally mature enough for a sexual relationship. The couple attended relationship counseling, and based on this a psychologist from the Cody Center for Autism and Developmental Disabilities at Stony Brook University concluded that the couple's desire to marry was appropriate.
Still, the families continued to hit roadblocks in trying to secure housing for the couple, with representatives from IGHL unresponsive to the couple's desires, according to the suit. Ultimately Forziano and her husband, along with Hava's parents, decided that IGHL, Maryhaven and the state had failed to provide adequate assistance in finding Paul and Hava a home. That's when they decided to sue.
Norman Samuels, Hava's father, told ABCNews.com that he and his wife, Bonnie, were repeatedly told by Maryhaven that they didn't feel Hava was clinically capable of being in a marriage.
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