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Mentally disabled newlyweds find home to share

Fight wins freedom to live together

Hava and Paul Forziano celebrated their first day in their new apartment at a group home on Monday.

Frank Eltman/Associated Press

Hava and Paul Forziano celebrated their first day in their new apartment at a group home on Monday.

RIVERHEAD, N.Y. — Who could blame Paul and Hava Forziano for celebrating Independence Day a few days early?

The mentally disabled newlyweds, who filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against group homes that refused to allow them to live together as husband and wife, held a joyous moving-in party Monday at their new apartment after another agency sympathetic to their plight stepped forward to offer them space in one of its facilities.

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‘‘We can be together all the time now,’’ Paul Forziano said. Added his wife, ‘‘Happy, not sad.’’

The newlywed couple beamed with joy and frequently hugged and kissed as they welcomed their parents, attorneys, and reporters into their freshly painted one-bedroom apartment.

Their new place is inside a large group home, already occupied by eight men; the newlyweds will live alone in a second-floor apartment, although the group home is staffed day and night should they need any help.

‘‘It’s more independent,’’ said Norman Samuels, the father of the bride who walked her down the aisle at a ceremony last April at a Long Island catering hall. ‘‘Here it is July 4th is coming up. It’s not quite that type of independence, but it is more independent.’’

Despite the developments, the lawsuit filed earlier this year will go on. The couple and their parents want a judge to order that all group homes in New York make facilities available for mentally disabled married couples.

Legal specialists are watching the case closely as a test of the Americans With Disabilities Act, which says, in part, that ‘‘a public entity shall make reasonable modifications in policies, practices, or procedures . . . to avoid discrimination on the basis of disability.’’ The group homes are licensed as nonprofits by the state and receive Medicaid funding on behalf of their clients.

‘‘You don’t know what’s going to happen in the future,’’ said attorney Martin Coleman. ‘‘People like Paul and Hava have to have the ability to move around if they want to. There’s only a limited number of providers. We need to be sure they’re not closed out of places.’’

Paul Forziano’s mother, Roseann, said her son and his new wife probably would still be looking for a new place had it not been for the legal action.

‘‘I don’t think it would have happened without a lawsuit,’’ she said. ‘‘All of a sudden once you file a lawsuit there’s a whole lot of cooperation. I don’t want that to have to be the norm.’’

The facility where the former Hava Samuels lived has declined to comment because of the pending litigation.

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