The first federal lawsuit seeking equal treatment for a same-sex couple in the U.S. is recounted in Thomas G. Miller's 73-minute documentary timeline of interviews and news clips, "Limited Partnership."
Filipino-American Richard Adams met and fell in love with Australian Tony Sullivan on Cinco de Mayo in 1971, as the feminist and gay-rights movements were gaining steam. In order to keep Sullivan from being deported from Los Angeles back Down Under, where his wealthy, yet abusive, family had disowned him due to his sexuality (his mother wanted to lobotomize him), the pair found county clerk Clela Rorex, who was issuing same-sex marriage licenses in Boulder, CO.
They flew north to marry on March 26, 1975, followed by an "official consummation" -- "the shot heard 'round the world," Sullivan jokes. Now legally married, the couple filed for a green card. Sullivan received a response from the Immigration and Naturalization Service stating, "You have failed to establish that a bona fide marital relationship can exist between two faggots."
Immigration reform was not discussed, but the couple and Boulder's licenses caught national attention through monologues by Johnny Carson and Anita Bryant, and Adams and Sullivan took their case to the court of public opinion via Phil Donahue and Jane Pauley, where they encountered some support but a lot of naked hatred.
Then Ninth Circuit Court Justice Anthony Kennedy found "no extreme hardship" if the couple was to be separated, so their legal strategy ended. Adams lost his job, and the husbands were forced to leave Adams' extended family and their L.A. home to tour England and Europe for several months. In October 1986, they illegally reentered the U.S. through Mexico and went into hiding.
Some immigration reform in the early 90s was kinder to homosexuals, but Senators such as Jesse Helms championed the Defense of Marriage Act ("one man/one woman"), which was signed into law by Bill Clinton. Adams and Sullivan weathered California's Proposition 8 being enacted and rescinded, and planned to "re-legalize"/renew their vows in Washington State, which they had written to say "as long as there is love" rather than "'til death do us part." But longtime smoker Adams died at age 65 on December 7, 2012, before the ceremony could be conducted.
So Sullivan is still illegal. He needs the government to recognize his 1975 marriage as valid in order to qualify for a green card as a widower of a U.S. citizen. The Supreme Court will decide his status in June 2015. In the meantime, watch this film to meet the brave men who broke ground for national equality.
For information on screenings, visit www.limitedpartnershipmovie.com
This article is part of our "19th Seattle Lesbian & Gay Film Festival" series. Want to read more?
Here's the full list»