Richard Adams (activist)

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Richard Frank Adams (March 9, 1947 – December 17, 2012) was a Filipino-American gay rights activist.[1] After his 1975 same-sex marriage was declared invalid for the purposes of granting his husband permanent residency, Adams filed the federal lawsuit Adams v. Howerton. This was the first lawsuit in America to seek recognition of a same-sex marriage by the federal government.[2]

Life and career[edit]

Adams was born in Manila in the Philippines. His family moved to the United States when he was 12, and he grew up in Long Prairie, Minnesota. He studied liberal arts at the University of Minnesota. Adams became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1968 and lived in Los Angeles, California when he met Australian citizen Anthony Corbett "Tony" Sullivan in 1971. They were issued a marriage license along with five other gay couples by Boulder County Clerk Clela Rorex in Boulder, Colorado on April 21, 1975. They were married by Rev. Elder Freda Smith, clergy in Metropolitan Community Churches and Rev. Robert Sirico (now a Catholic priest but then MCC clergy). The event was witnessed by Rev. Charlie Arehart, pastor of MCC of the Rockies in Denver and Frank Zerilli, Rev. Troy Perry's long-time assistant.

In 1975, the couple applied with the Immigration and Naturalization Service for Sullivan to be granted permanent residency as a citizen's spouse. The petition was initially denied, with a letter stating that "[Adams and Sullivan] have failed to establish that a bona fide marital relationship can exist between two faggots."[3] A revised letter was later sent after they filed a formal protest, explaining that "[a] marriage between two males is invalid for immigration purposes and cannot be considered a bona fide marital relationship since neither party to the marriage can perform the female functions in marriage."[4]

They sued the INS in 1979, but a federal district judge upheld the INS decision. They also lost their appeals. They later filed a second suit arguing that Sullivan's deportation after the couple had been together for 8 years constituted an "extreme hardship." The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected their claims, making it possible for Sullivan to be deported. Following that loss, they traveled in Europe for a year, but they eventually returned to the US and stopped doing high-profile activism to avoid attention from immigration authorities. Adams worked as an administrator for a law firm until his retirement in 2010. After retirement, Adams and Sullivan made some appearances at events supporting gay marriage. They are featured in the documentary Limited Partnership, which is scheduled for release by Tesseract Films in 2013.

Adams died in Los Angeles after a short illness in December 2012.[5] On April 21, 2014, 39 years to the day after the two were married, Anthony Sullivan filed the Motion with the Los Angeles Field Office of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to reopen and reconsider his late husband’s petition for a marriage-based green card which the same office denied four decades ago.[6][7]

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