Richard Adams, a pioneer in the fight for gay marriage and equality, passed away on the 17th of December, at age 65 in his Hollywood home he shared with his partner of 43 years. Adams met Tony Sullivan at a gay bar in Los Angeles in 1971, and by 1975, Adams and Sullivan were granted a marriage license by a country clerk in Colorado. During a time when homosexuality was still seen as a mental illness and gay men and women were subjected to anti-gay slurs from government agencies, Sullivan and Adams reached this watershed moment and set the ball rolling for gay equality and recognition. Lavi Soloway, Adams’ attorney, said of the couple, “They felt that in the end, the most important thing was their love for each other, and in that respect they won. No government or law was ever able to keep them apart.”
Even though Colorado law “expressly forbade it,” Clela Rorex, a country clerk in Boulder, Colorado, placed Adams and Sullivan in the public spotlight when she illegally granted them – and six other gay couples – marriage licenses at the First Unitarian Church of Denver in the mid-1970’s. Soon after, the district attorney’s office in Colorado forced Rorex to stop granting gay couples marriage licenses, and although Rorex was unable to continue her work, she still remained friends with Adams until his death.
Adams and Sullivan initially wished to get married in order for Sullivan, an Australian citizen, to be granted permanent U.S. citizenship. Unfortunately, in the prejudiced style of the times they lived in, the INS (Immigration and Naturalization Services) denied the request with one sentence – “You have failed to establish that a bona fide marital relationship can exist between two faggots.”
Adams then took the INS to court in 1979 and filed a separate suit pertaining to the constitutional right for gay couples to be granted marriage rights. Unfortunately, Adams’ lawsuits were rejected in almost every appeals court in the United States. In the mid-1980’s, there were reports that Sullivan was going to be deported from the USA, so the couple appeared on several high-profile US talk shows to have their voices heard. The couple couldn’t move to Australia as Adams’ permanent residency was also denied there. They moved to Europe for two years in the late 80’s, but eventually returned to the United States and lived an extremely out-of-sight and out-of-mind life in their Los Angeles home.
Fortunately, in recent months, Adams was able to see gay marriage equality – and what he fought for – come to fruition. In October of 2012, 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.”
For 43 years, Adams and Sullivan’s undying love for one another stretched over three continents and hundreds of court room appearances as they relentlessly fought to have their love for one another acknowledged by lawmakers and officials.
Ultimately, Adams’ dreams came true, and he was able to pass away knowing that he changed the face of gay marriage equality for centuries to come. He might have died in silence, but throughout his life, his voice couldn’t be silenced by the millions of people who denied him his right to love, and to be loved.