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This "obituary" is a tad late, but the holidays took a toll on my writing, and I wanted to write something up about this for Remembering LGBT History.

On December 17, gay rights pioneer Richard Adams passed away after a short illness. He was 65 years old.

Adams (left in the picture, standing with his partner Anthony Sullivan) was a marriage equality activist before marriage equality was considered a legitimate idea in the United States--indeed, before there was even a concept of same-sex matrimony in the minds of most Americans. There were more than a few gay activists who worked on the marriage front. But Adams' story is a little unique. Follow me below the fold.

In 1971, Adams met Sullivan in a Los Angeles gay bar called The Closet. They quickly fell in love. But their relationship soon became complicated--and not just because they were gay in the 1970s. Sullivan was an Australian citizen, and he faced the certain reality of having to return to his home country. And so, four years after they met, the couple decided to attempt to marry, in the hopes that doing so would secure permanent residency status for Sullivan.

On April 21, 1975, the two men appeared before a county clerk in Boulder, Colorado, named Clela Rorex to obtain a marriage license. Rorex, a liberal who was well ahead of her time, actually issued them one. This particular clerk was well-known for issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, since there was technically no law on the Colorado books preventing it, and the New York Times called her office "a mini-Nevada for homosexual couples." Eventually, the Colorado attorney general would order her to stop, but Adams and Sullivan made it just in time. In all, six gay couples received marriage licenses from Rorex's office. Check out Meteor Blades' excellent diary to learn more about Rorex.

After obtaining their marriage license and marrying in the First Unitarian Church of Denver, Adams and Sullivan quickly got to work on their paperwork for what was then called the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) in order to allow Sullivan to stay in the United States. They promptly received the following one-sentence response from the government agency:

You have failed to establish that a bona fide marital relationship can exist between two faggots.
Yes, that was on a government document. Here's a screenshot of the actual document:

Adams then took the INS to court, marking the first federal lawsuit involving same-sex marriage rights. He eventually filed another lawsuit challenging the denial of marriage rights to same-sex couples. However, he found only rejection from the courts. Perhaps the more significant contribution by Adams was the injection of the same-sex marriage issue into mainstream consciousness, as he appeared on shows such as the Today Show and The Phil Donahue Show. Adams and Sullivan were considered an oddity by many, but for many it was the first time the concept of a same-sex wedding had even occurred to them.

As for the couple themselves, they lived in Europe for a while, as Adams was denied residency in Australia as well. They then lived a quiet life together in Los Angeles.

Although Adams faced defeat in the judicial system, he and Sullivan laid important groundwork for the marriage equality struggle to come. Rest in peace, Mr. Adams. Well done.


Originally posted to Remembering LGBT History on Wed Dec 26, 2012 at 01:07 PM PST.

Also republished by History for Kossacks, Milk Men And Women, Angry Gays, LGBT Kos Community, and Kossacks for Marriage Equality.

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