As June is the month of Pride and the month of weddings, I’m reminded of a love story that touched me and molded my feelings about marriage equality. Back in 1975, I moved into a fabulous vintage apartment where my next-door neighbors were an adorable couple that had just embarked on a long journey that would make news for decades.
Richard Adams was a dark, handsome young Filipino raised in the US while Tony Sullivan was an Aussie, a blond Robert Redford look alike. The two had met in the early 70s and by the time I met them, they knew they wanted to make their relationship permanent but faced two major problems. First, while Richard was a naturalized citizen, Tony was in the country illegally because his non-immigrant visa had expired. At the time, it was fairly easy for a citizen to get legal status for their spouse so this happy pair decided to tie the knot. Unfortunately, at the time local authorities would not issue a license to two people of the same sex and homosexuals were considered “deviants” who could not legally immigrate to the US.
Shortly before I moved in next door, Richard and Tony heard about a clerk in Colorado who was willing to give a marriage license to a gay couple. They traveled to Colorado, got married and returned to California, only to discover that the state would not honor their status. Thus began a decades-long struggle to get their relationship recognized and prevent Tony from getting deported.
This was the first time I had thought about the rights of gay men to get married, and most of the gay men I knew at the time weren’t thinking about it, either. This was the swinging, pre-AIDS seventies so Richard and Tony didn’t get a lot of support for their efforts to legalize their relationship. Just a few years earlier, interracial marriages were finally legalized nationwide so it seemed only logical that same-sex unions would follow but none of us could imagine how long it wouls take.
I lost track of Richard and Tony after moving in 1978 but kept up with their struggles when their story made the news. Most of it was not good, like when Tony received a letter from the INS stating that they did not recognize marriage “between two faggots.” In 1985, after exhausting their legal appeals, the couple was forced out of the country and fled to England. Soon the pair grew lonely for friends and family in LA so they slipped back into the US where they were required to lie low to avoid deportation.
Time went on and public opinion on marriage equality slowly changed. In 2012 the case for legalizing gay marriage went to the Supreme Court, but for Richard, time was running out. He had been diagnosed with stage-four cancer. By this time several states had already legalized same-sex marriage and the couple was advised by their lawyer to repeat their vows. Unfortunately, Richard died in December before the pair had the chance.
A few months after Richard passed, the Supreme Court overturned the Defense of Marriage Act, finally giving equal rights to same-sex couple and making it possible for one gay spouse to sponsor the other for a green card. Tony petitioned for his own green card on the grounds that he was the widower of a US citizen. In 2016, his green card was delivered to the Hollywood apartment he had shared with Richard for decades in the same building where I met them so long ago.
A documentary about Richard and Tony called “Limited Partnership” came out in 2014 and as I watched it again on the Tubi streaming channel, I felt like throwing things at the screen. Being reminded once more of crude INS agents, sanctimonious talk show guests and other bigots who are unfortunately still with us made me angrier than ever at how these two men were harassed and threatened for most of their lives.
So if you are celebrating Pride 2022 with the one you love, raise a toast to Richard and Tony for fighting for their rights and never giving up.