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Remembering the indefatigable gay rights activist who fought for 40 years to marry the man he loved

Matilda Davies December 18, 2020
Richard Adams and Anthony Sullivan

Richard Adams and Anthony Sullivan (YouTube/PBS)

Anthony Sullivan, who fought for marriage equality for more than 40 years, died at his home in Hollywood.

He met his husband Richard Adams at a gay bar in Los Angeles in 1971.

In 1975, they managed to get a marriage license from a county clerk who was issuing them to same-sex couples. Part of the reason they wanted to officially marry was because Sullivan needed a green card.

Sullivan was an Australian citizen, and the Immigration and Naturalisation Service (INS) found out that he was going back and forth to Mexico to keep his tourist visa status.

After they received their marriage license, Sullivan applied for his green card. He received a letter from INS that said: “You have failed to establish that a bona fide marital relationship can exist between two faggots.”

The letter caused a huge media backlash and protests.

Anthony Sullivan and his husband were the first gay couple to sue the US government to recognise their marriage

The couple had a 10 year court battle against the INS (now called USCIS or United States Citizen and Immigration Services). This was the first case put to the US Federal Court to recognise a same-sex marriage.

Their battle took them to the District Court, the Supreme Court and the Federal Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, but lost every time.

The couple ended up having to move to Europe, then spending some time in Northern Ireland. They did not want to return to Sullivan’s native Australia, because his mother had disowned him. He left home aged 16 because of this.

They returned to the US in 1986 by going to Mexico and driving across the border and back to LA.

In 2011, shortly before Adams’ death, the Obama administration ruled to protect relatives of US citizens from deportation, which included same-sex partners.

The US federal government finally agreed to retroactively recognise their marriage in 2016. Unfortunately, this was four years after Adams’ death in December 2012.

The USCIS has now finally given Sullivan a green card as the widower of a US citizen. He received it on the 41st anniversary of their original marriage.

Anthony Sullivan told The Pride LA: “I desperately wish Richard was here with me for this.”

Sullivan’s attorney, Lavi Soloway, told The Pride LA: “The unique and historic nature of this case cannot be underestimated.”

He remembered: “Richard and Anthony never wavered in their belief that their marriage was valid and should be treated with dignity and respect.”

More: anthony sullivan, equal marriage, marriage equality, Richard Adams, same sex marriage, tony sullivan

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