I was interviewed recently on an interesting case out of New York where Paul Forziano and Hava Samuels are suing to be able to live together in public housing. The problem is that they are mentally disabled and the state says that it cannot accommodate mentally disabled married couples. It is a case that pits constitutional rights for married couples (as well as disability protections) against a state’s discretionary decisions on budgetary and facilities management.
Forziano and Samuels spend each day together but then have to go to separate group homes. Their parents have been trying to get the state to reconsider its policy. However, they say that officials maintain that their qualification for a group home by definition means that they cannot live as married people.
As the nation debate same-sex marriage, the case pushes that question into a new uncharted area.
Catholic Health Systems runs the Maryhaven Center of Hope but declined a statement. Samuels lives in a women only facility.
David Arntsen, representing the Independent Group Home Living program where Forziano lives, says that his client doesn’t have facilities for married residents.
Forziano, 30, is classified in the mild to moderate range of intellectual functioning and has an IQ score between 50 and 58. Samuels, 36, is in the moderate range of intellectual functioning, with an IQ score between 50 and 44. Another below 70 is entitled to disability benefits through the Social Security Administration.
In my view, this is a tough case. As a policy matter, I think it should be allowed with facilities accommodating married couples. However, as a legal matter, the state can argue that there is a rational basis that policy and that the state cannot accommodate such arrangements. What I do not agree with is that disability means that the couple cannot by definition live as a married couple. On that level, this appears discriminatory. What is left is the question of whether the discrimination can be justified on the basis for logistical and financial costs. Should the state be required to contract for or build facilities for married disabled couples?
Source: Montreal Gazette