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US marriage rights pioneer Richard Adams has died

Richard Adams brought the first court case seeking to have his marriage to Australian husband Tony Sullivan recognized by the US and then lived with him illegally under fear of Sullivan’s deportation for the next four decades when that failed
Richard (left) and Tony in 1975

One half of the first couple to file a lawsuit against the US Government over the right to have their marriage recognized has passed away.

Richard Adams reportedly passed away on Monday morning.

In April of 1975 he and husband Tony Sullivan were married by a city clerk in Boulder, Colorado, alongside five other same-sex couples.

Later that year Adams sought to have the US Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) recognize Sullivan, an Australian, as his legal spouse.

However the couple received a rude shock when they received a reply from the INS.

‘You have failed to establish that a bona fide marital relationship can exist between two faggots,’ the INS letter read.

A revised letter from the INS later stated, ‘marriage between two males is invalid for immigration purposes and cannot be considered a bona fide marital relationship since neither party to the marriage can perform the female functions in marriage.’

In response the couple filed a federal lawsuit which became known as Adams v. Howerton.

Sadly in 1982 the US Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the status quo at that time that the term ‘spouse’ only referred an opposite sex partner but Adams continued to be active in the fight for LGBT rights and the rights of same-sex couples to marry throughout his four decade long relationship with Sullivan.

When the couple’s final avenue of appeal was exhausted in September of 1985 the couple sought to publicize their plight and appeared on The Donahue Show and The Today Show to argue their case to no avail.

The couple left the US in November of that year and spent a year traveling around Australia and Europe before slipping back into the US where Sullivan lived illegally with Adams under the radar for the next 15 years.

However following the Prop 8 ballot initiative banning same-sex marriage in California the couple felt compelled to make their story public.

LGBT Americans still do not have the right to sponsor their partners for immigration purposes although the Obama Administration has directed immigration officials to recognize their partners as family members for the purpose of deportation proceedings.

The couple’s story is the subject of an upcoming documentary, Limited Partnership.

Photo: Richard (left) and Tony walking their dog in 1975

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