Richard Adams Dies; Gay Marriage Pioneer Was 65

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Richard Adams, an early figure in the push for gay marriage decades before it reached the center of the national consciousness, has died at the age of 65.

Richard Adams Picture

After a brief illness, Adams died in the Hollywood home he shared with Tony Sullivan, his partner of 43 years, attorney Lavi Soloway told The AP.

Adams and Sullivan met at an L.A. gay bar called The Closet in 1971, but their life and relationship would soon be on display for a global audience.

They were granted a marriage license in 1975, but for years fought in vain to see it recognized as the idea of two married men was still strange and foreign.

They were subjected to anti-gay slurs even from government agencies.

"They felt that the most important thing was their love for each other, and in that respect they won," Soloway said. "No government or law was ever able to keep them apart."

The couple's public life began when they heard about a county clerk in Boulder, Colo., named Clela Rorex, a same-sex pioneer in her own right.

The clerk took the unprecedented step of giving marriage licenses to gay couples after learning from the D.A.'s office that nothing in Colorado law expressly forbade it.

Rorex's office became "a mini-Nevada for homosexual couples."

Among the first six couples to take advantage were Adams and Sullivan, who had a ceremony at the First Unitarian Church of Denver and were granted a license from Rorex.

That was before the state's attorney general ordered her to stop giving them to gay couples. Rorex remained in contact with Adams throughout his life.

Adams and Sullivan's primary motivation in marrying was to get permanent U.S. residency status for Sullivan, an Australian, and they promptly put in an application.

What was then called the Immigration and Naturalization Service issued 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 INS issued a follow-up response that removed the offending language but not a reversal.

Adams' attempt to have that decision overturned was the first federal lawsuit seeking gay marriage recognition, according to the Advocate  and the Los Angeles Times.

He took the INS to court in 1979, and later filed a separate lawsuit on the constitutionality of denying gays the right to marry. His position appeared strong.

Gay couples always thought they would have to sue for the right to marry in the first place, and Adams was defending a marriage he had been officially granted.

Despite reaching the highest federal appeals courts, he was met only with rejections. Only decades later would he see a major sea change on the issue.

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