As we celebrate Independence Day this weekend, we should recall those words near the beginning of the Declaration of Independence that changed the world: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
America witnessed a living example of those words, taught to every school child, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a 5 to 4 decision that people of the same sex are free to marry in all 50 states.
The ruling moves the United States forward toward a more just society, which the brave men in Philadelphia in July 1776 were willing to enact with the shadow of a British gallows hanging over them.
But our society has even further to go.
In Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy’s majority opinion, the words “disabled” could replace “same sex” or “gay” or “lesbian” in several instances. For example, he wrote: “[Exclusion from the right to marry] demeans gays and lesbians for the State to lock them out of a central institution of the Nation’s society. Same-sex couples, too, may aspire to the transcendent purposes of marriage and seek fulfillment in its highest meaning.”
Consider the case of Paul and Hava Forziano, a disabled married couple living in Riverhead who decided to leave their former nonprofit providers because the organizations didn’t offer them a separate place to live. Their families have been seeking fulfillment, on their children’s behalf, in the courts for the past two years.
For now, after their case was dismissed and a higher court recently affirmed the dismissal, the couple — who has thankfully been granted a roof over their heads by local nonprofit East End Disability Associates — awaits word on whether the case will be reheard in court.
Common sense dictates that the civil right of marriage, now justly granted to couples of every sexual orientation, should likewise be available to individuals of any disability, without discrimination. If the court again rules that current laws permit their former state-funded providers to deny housing to a married couple, then one logical option remains: change the law.
Hopefully, that road can be avoided.
Either way, the couple and their families have provided a compelling example, similar to what we have just witnessed nationwide, and a truly American example to celebrate this week: people seeking equal treatment under the law.