Gay widower renews petition for green card on 39th wedding anniversary

LOS ANGELES — A 72-year-old Australian man widowed by his American husband of more than three decades is renewing his pitch for a green card since the Obama administration eased policies on gay marriage.

Anthony Sullivan
Anthony Sullivan Erin Taylor, Courtesy The DOMA Project
Richard Adams (left) and Anthony Sullivan
Richard Adams (left) and Anthony Sullivan Pat Rocco, Courtesy The DOMA Project

INS denial letter referring to Adams and Sullivan as
INS denial letter referring to Adams and Sullivan as “two faggots.” Courtesy Anthony Sullivan

Anthony Sullivan asked immigration authorities Monday to reopen a petition filed in 1975 by his late husband, Richard Adams, so he can be awarded legal residency as the surviving spouse of a U.S. citizen.

The couple’s public life began when they heard about a county clerk in Boulder, Colo., named Clela Rorex, 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.

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, and they promptly put in an application with what was then called the Immigration and Naturalization Service.

But the federal government refused to grant them immigration benefits, issuing 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.

Sullivan and Adams fought back in a high-profile lawsuit, demanding that the federal government recognize their marriage for immigration purposes. Following ten years of litigation, they lost in a final ruling at the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Sullivan’s request on Monday to reopen the petition comes on the 39th anniversary of the day he and Adams were married.

Sullivan and Adams were together for 41 years after first meeting on May 5, 1971 at a Los Angeles gay bar called “The Closet.” Adams died Dec. 17, 2012.

A spokeswoman for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services declined to comment on the case. The agency began issuing green cards to married same-sex couples last year after a Supreme Court ruling struck down a section of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) that prohibited federal recognition of lawful same-sex marriages.

“Although we are sad Richard Adams did not live to see this day, we are optimistic the government will grant this Motion to Reopen and take the necessary steps to fulfill his desire that Mr. Sullivan be granted lawful permanent resident status by issuing a green card on the basis of their marriage,” said Lavi S. Soloway, a partner in the immigration law firm, Masliah & Soloway.

“We are asking the federal government, at long last, to treat this marriage with the dignity and respect it deserves, and, in so doing, to repudiate the unacceptable and hateful language that was used by INS in 1975.” Soloway said.

Associated Press contributed to this report.

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