Thursday, December 27, 2012

R.I.P. Richard Adams: A Hero for LGBT Marriage and Immigration Rights

Richard Adams (left) and his husband Anthony Sullivan.

by Doug Haxall

Earlier this month, the movement for LGBT marriage and immigration rights lost one of its own - a hero who was 30 years ahead of his time – a hero who arguably could be called the “father” of our movement - Richard Adams.

In 1971, Richard Adams met his future partner, an Australian named Anthony Sullivan at a nightclub in Los Angeles. The two fell in love, and, in 1975, when a Boulder, Colorado county clerk named Clela Rorex (who is also one of our early heroes) began approving marriage licenses to same-sex couples, Richard and Anthony were among the first in line. They married at a Unitarian church nearby. When Anthony’s visitor visa expired, Richard applied for spousal recognition for Anthony from the INS (Immigration and Naturalization Service).

That is when the INS sent them a letter stating that “You have failed to demonstrate that a bona fide marital relationship can exist betweentwo faggots”.

So they sued the INS in federal court – the first ever federal case demanding equal marriage rights and the first ever to demand recognition of a same-sex relationship for immigration purposes.

Long story short – they lost. But they fought bravely and with great dignity. For those of us who have ever shied away at the notion of discussing our personal lives in public, can you imagine what it must have been like to appear on the "Phil Donahue Show" in the early 1980s having audience members shouting homophobic slurs? Anthony and Richard were the vanguard – the front line soldiers taking the shots to clear a path for the rest of us. They were brave, and they kept their cool through it all.

Many years later, when I started to volunteer for L.A. Immigration Equality (later Out4Immigration), I met Anthony and Richard. They were funny, passionate, charming, and super-intelligent. But most importantly, they were genuine friends. They were absolute mentors to me. I think they were still in hiding at the time and having to lay low, but I could call them whenever, for whatever reason, and they would always have a kind word of advice. They had taken to working behind the scenes to help those of us who had picked up the mantle.  We saw each other off and on over the years, and we always had a great time.

One of the greatest surprises in meeting this amazing man, who literally ignited our movement and took on the entire federal government, was that he was incredibly modest and soft-spoken.  He was a quiet and gentle soul. He struck me as one of the most decent fellows I had ever met.  That’s when I realized the profound lesson to be learned from his story: Richard and Anthony did not take this battle on for glory or attention or politics.They took it on simply because they loved each other, and it was the right thing to do. They were brave beyond words. We owe them so much.

My friend Tom Miller, who is a documentary filmmaker, has just completed a movie about Anthony and Richard called Limited Partnership. As soon as it comes out, we should all go see it. Together. We should invite the press. And we should be as brave in telling our stories as Anthony and Richard were in telling theirs, because that’s the only way that we will ever be able to celebrate the day that these two intrepid pioneers so long looked forward to: The day that all LGBT Americans can finally marry their partners and sponsor them for U.S. citizenship.

Richard, my dear friend, that day is coming soon!

For more coverage of this story, visit:

Doug Haxall is a member of the Out4Immigration steering committee. Out4Immigration is an all-volunteer grassroots groups dedicated to ending the discrimination faced by same-sex binational couples due to the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and how it blocks access to equal immigration rights for gay and lesbian American citizens married to foreign partners. 

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