Richard Adams, who was half of one of the first gay couples to receive a marriage license in the United States, died at age 65 Monday after a brief illness.
Adams and his partner, Anthony Sullivan, were one of six couples to receive their marriage license in the spring of 1975 in Boulder, Colorado. Adams wanted to use the license to secure permanent residency for his Aussie partner, who had been in the US on a limited visa and was facing deportation.
Unfortunately, Sullivan was denied resident status after Colorado’s attorney general declared the marriage license invalid. Sullivan and Adams received a letter from the Immigration and Naturalization Service a few months later that said, “You have failed to establish a bona fide marital relationship can exist between two f*ggots.”
Following that decision, Adams filed the first federal lawsuit that demanded same-sex marriages be recognized. His attorney, Lavi Soloway, said Adams and Sullivan were “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.”
Soloway also said that, on an appearance on Donahue, “people in the audience said some pretty nasty things. But they withstood it all because they felt it was important to speak out.”
Richard Adams was born March 9, 1947 in Manila. He immigrated to the US with his family when he was 12 years old and grew up in Long Prairie, Minnesota. He became a naturalized citizen in 1968; three years later, he met Sullivan in Los Angeles, and the two fell in love.
Initially, Adams tried to get residency in Australia, but the request was denied. With both their requests for residency turned down, the couple decided to leave the US and traveled through Europe in 1985. They returned to Los Angeles a year later and in recent years started attending rallies supporting same-sex marriage after staying under the radar of immigration officials for almost two decades.
The day before he died, Sullivan told Adams that their most important victory was that they were able to stay a couple, despite not being able to get married.
While California briefly granted same-sex marriages in 2008, the state now only recognizes them on a conditional basis. An amendment in Colorado, the state where Adams and Sullivan first tried to get married, that would have overturned a 2006 ballot measure that defined marriage as between one man and one woman, didn’t make it onto the November 6 ballot this year. Still, Adams lived long enough to see gay marriage legalized in nine states — as well as the District of Columbia — a victory for same-sex couples that he, unfortunately, was unable to enjoy.
[Pictured: Richard Adams, left, and Anthony Sullivan in 1984]