Sunday, December 23, 2012

Gay Marriage Pioneer, Richard Adams, Dies

Elaine Woo of the L.A. Times tells the immigration story of gay marriage pioneer, Richard Adams who 37 years ago, made history when he and his partner, Anthony Sullivan, became one of the first gay couples in the country to be granted a marriage license. For a profile of the couple, click here.


In Boulder, Colo., a county clerk issued licenses to six same-sex couples in 1975. Adams hoped to use his marriage to secure permanent residency in the United States for Sullivan, an Australian who had been in the country on a temporary visa and was facing deportation.

Colorado's attorney general declared the Boulder marriages invalid. Several months later, Adams and Sullivan received a letter from the Immigration and Naturalization Service that denied Sullivan's petition for resident status in terms that left no doubt about the reason: "You have failed to establish that a bona fide marital relationship can exist between two faggots," the notification read.

Adams, who later filed the first federal lawsuit demanding recognition of same-sex marriages, died last Monday at his home in Hollywoody. He was 65.

Born in Manila on March 9, 1947, Adams immigrated to the U.S. with his family when he was 12. He grew up in Long Prairie, Minnesota, studied at the University of Minnesota and became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1968. By 1971 he was working in Los Angeles, where he met Sullivan and fell in love. On April 21, 1975, they obtained their license and exchanged marriage vows at the First Unitarian Church of Denver.


After their marriage, Adams and Sullivan filed a petition with the Immigration & Naturalization Service seeking permanent residency for Sullivan as the spouse of a U.S. citizen. In November 1975, they received the immigration agency's derogatory letter and lodged a formal protest. Officials reissued the denial notice without the word "faggots." They took the agency to court in 1979, challenging the constitutionality of the denial. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in Adams v. Howerton (1982) refused to recognize a same-sex marriage for purpoises of the U.S. immigration laws.   In a second lawsuit, the couple argued that Sullivan's deportation after an eight-year relationship with Adams would constitute an "extreme hardship." In 1985, the Ninth Circuit rejected the appeal.

Because Australia had already turned down Adams' request for residency in that country, the couple decided the only way they could stay together was to leave the United States. In 1985, they flew to Britain and drifted through Europe for the next year. The pair returned from exile to the U.S. after a year and lived in Los Angeles to avoid drawing the attention of immigration officials.


"Limited Partnership," a documentary on Richard Adams and Anthony Sullivan, is scheduled for release next year.


The struggle to ensure that the U.S. immigration laws recognize same-sex relationships continues.


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