As the dust settles down on the historic decision of SCOTUS to pave the way for same-sex marriage to be legalised for all Americans in every State some commentators still consider we achieved so much in a short time. That is probably because what is in their mind as the starting point was when the State of Massachusetts ruled that the ban on same-sex marriages was illegal in 2004. In reality the struggle for recognition actually almost 30 years before that when a gay couple managed to get married in Boulder Colorado when a feminist Court Clerk decided to issue licences.
The brief window of opportunity was closed by the State’s Attorney General but the fact remained that Richard Adams and Tony Sullivan were legally married even though most authorities refused to acknowledge this. Official recognition was important to the couple as Sullivan was an Australian citizen who had been on a tourist visa when he met and fell in love with Adams an American/Filipino living in L.A. (The couple liked to recall that the gay club they met at back then in the 1970’s was called ‘The Closet’).
After the brief ceremony the couple went back to their hotel as the State’s Constitution insisted it was not a valid marriage unless it had been ‘consumated’. They took great pleasure in telling a very curious Press the next morning that they carried it all out right to the letter of the law.
What came next was not particular surprising in itself, but the shocking and highly offensive manner that the INS relayed their refusal to grant Sullivan the right to apply for a Spousal Green Card was totally outrageous. They wrote that there was no such thing as ‘a bona fida marriage between two faggots’ . This didn’t just infuriate the two men, but it served to turn this quiet reserved and private couple into becoming passionate activists as they then began a long and arduous battle through the Courts and with the Authorities into getting a residential Visa for Sullivan to remain in the US.
What strikes you watching this compelling documentary is that Adams and Sullivan throughout all this ordeal didn’t just have to deal with endless institutionalized homophobia, but with the vocal and violent abuse of the general population stirred up by the media. When they finally exhausted every legal option open to them Sullivan was served with a Deportation Order, but returning to Australia was no longer an option as the Authorities there had refused Adams a Visa and the couple refused to live separately at this stage.
Facing a media scrum at the airport they reluctantly flew to London and then on to Europe where they toured some months being stateless, homeless and eventually penniless. They were however miserable without Adams’s large extended family and all their friends and their old life, so they eventually sneaked back into the US via Mexico and went on the downlow and kept out of the public eye as Sullivan was now now an undocumented illegal alien.
Filmmakers Tom Miller and Kirk Marcolina came across Adams and Sullivan in 2001 when they were researching a film about bi-national same-sex couples. It wasn’t however until 2008 when gay marriage and Prop 8 started being discussed did they actually re-surface in public and become activists. Luckily Miller filmed them on several times over the years, and this added to wonderful archival footage of the couple from back in the 1970’s is what he enables to give this very full picture of their lives together that spanned some 40 years.
They are a charismatic couple, although Miller is quick to show, far from perfect. Their lives were greatly hampered by the weight of their ordeal , and the price they paid for being the first gay couple to stand and fight for these rights, cost them dearly. However what maintained their resolve throughout the decades was just being able to share a life together. Adams, the shy one out of the pair, is the first to unreservedly declare his love even after all these years, adding ‘he is the most wonderful person, even though he’s irritating’.
Be prepared to grab for your kleenex for when the documentary catches up to the present time and the Supreme Court finally takes up the whole question of same-sex marriage, it is sadly too late for the one couple that started the ball rolling so many decades ago. This excellent record of their sacrifice is at least one way of ensuring that we will neither forget their legacy or the debt that our Community owe them both.