LOS ANGELES – Richard Adams, who used both the altar and the courtroom to help begin the push for gay marriage decades ago, has died, his attorney said Sunday.
After a brief illness, Adams died Dec. 17 at age 65 in the Hollywood home he shared with Tony Sullivan, his partner of 43 years, attorney Lavi Soloway told the Associated Press.
Adams and Sullivan were granted a marriage license in 1975, but for years fought in vain to see it recognized. They were subjected to anti-gay slurs even from government agencies.
The couple’s public life began when they heard about a county clerk in Boulder, Colo., named Clela Rorex, a pioneer in her own right who took the unprecedented step of giving marriage licenses to gay couples after learning from the district attorney’s office that nothing in Colorado law expressly forbade it.
Among the first six couples to take advantage were Adams and Sullivan, who traveled to Colorado, had a ceremony at the First Unitarian Church of Denver and were granted a license from Rorex, before the state’s attorney general ordered her to stop giving them to gay couples.
Adams and Sullivan’s primary motivation in marrying was to get permanent U.S. residency status for Sullivan, an Australian, and they promptly put in an application with what was then called the Immigration and Naturalization Service.
They received a one-sentence denial from INS that was stunning in its bluntness: “You have failed to establish that a bona fide marital relationship can exist between two faggots,” the letter said.
INS issued a follow-up response that removed the offending language but gave no ground in its thinking.
Adams’ attempt to have that decision overturned was the first federal lawsuit seeking gay marriage recognition, according to the Advocate magazine and the Los Angeles Times.
Despite reaching the highest federal appeals courts, he was met only with rejections.
He did live to see what he deemed a major victory for his particular cause, gay couples and immigration, in October when the Obama administration issued written policy guidelines saying same-sex couples in long-term partnerships “rise to the level of a ‘family relationship”’ when it comes to deportation.
“You can draw a straight line from Tony and Richard’s efforts in the 1970s to that piece of paper in 2012,” Soloway said.