Richard Adams, an early pioneer in the fight for marriage equality for gays and lesbians, died Dec. 17 in the Hollywood home he shared with Anthony Sullivan, his partner of 43 years, his attorney said Sunday. Adams was 65.
Adams and Sullivan made history nearly four decades ago when the became one of the first gay couples in the country to be granted a marriage license.
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, reported Associated Press.
On April 21, 1975, they obtained their license and exchanged marriage vows at the First Unitarian Church of Denver.
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.
The INS issued a follow-up response that removed the offending language but gave no ground in its thinking.
Adams later filed the first federal lawsuit demanding recognition of same-sex marriages, taking the agency to court in 1979, challenging the constitutionality of the denial.
A federal district judge in Los Angeles upheld the INS decision, and Adams and Sullivan lost subsequent appeals.
Adams’ attorney, Lavi Soloway, described the couple as “pioneers who stood up and fought for something nobody at that time conceived of as a right, the right of gay couples to be married.”
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, Minn., studied liberal arts at the University of Minnesota and became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1968.
Adams and Sullivan met at a Los Angeles gay bar called “The Closet” in 1971.