Los Angeles Times
Sunday, Dec. 23, 2012 | 1 p.m.
LOS ANGELES — Richard Adams, who used both the altar and the courtroom to help begin the push for gay marriage four decades before it reached the center of the national consciousness, has died, his attorney said Sunday.
After a brief illness, Adams died Dec. 17 at age 65 in the Hollywood home he shared with Tony Sullivan, his partner of 43 years, attorney Lavi Soloway told The Associated Press.
"Theirs was a pretty remarkable story," Soloway said in an email. "They were far ahead of their time when they took up the fight to have their legal Colorado marriage recognized by the federal government."
The two men met at a Los Angeles gay bar called "The Closet" in 1971.
In 1975, they heard about a rogue county clerk in Boulder, Colo., named Clela Rorex, a pioneer in her own right, who decided she would give marriage licenses to gay couples after learning from the district attorney's office that nothing in Colorado law expressly forbade it.
Rorex's office became what The New York Times soon after called "a mini-Nevada for homosexual couples."
Among the first six couples to take advantage were Adams and Sullivan, who traveled to Colorado, had a ceremony at the First Unitarian Church of Denver and were granted a license from Rorex, before the state's attorney general ordered her to stop giving them to gay couples.
Their primary motivation in marrying was to get permanent U.S. residency status for Sullivan, an Australian, and they promptly put in an application with what was then called the Immigration and Naturalization Service.
They received 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.
Adams' attempt to have that decision overturned was the first federal lawsuit seeking gay marriage recognition, according to the Advocate magazine and the Los Angeles Times, the first media outlets to report his death.
He took the INS to court in 1979, and over several years in court was met only with rejections.
But the couple became a hot topic, especially as Sullivan's deportation became likely in the mid-1980s, and they appeared on the "Today" show and "The Phil Donahue Show," giving some of the first national attention to gay marriage when it was considered an oddity even by future supporters.
Adams' application for Australian residency was also denied, so the couple spent a year in Europe before returning to the United States and leading a low-profile life in Los Angeles.
But they recently reemerged as their issue finally gained traction in courts and voting booths.
They're the subject of an upcoming documentary, "Limited Partnership," and just two days before Adams' death they were working with Soloway on a challenge to the federal Defense of Marriage Act, one of two laws the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear in its upcoming term.