Anthony Sullivan, an Australian man who fought for same-sex marriage rights for over 40 years, has very sadly passed away at his home in Hollywood, California. In 1975 when Sullivan married his love, Richard Adams – a Filipino-American, it was a momentous time not only because it was a ground breaking moment but because it instigated the first case that would be put to the US Federal court to recognise a same-sex marriage.
Anthony’s life began on February 26, 1942, when he was born to parents John Anthony Sullivan (a grain merchant) and Joyce Sullivan (maiden name of Davis). Anthony attended school at St Ignatius College in Lane Cove. Anthony’s parents divorced when he was 11 and just five years later he left home. Anthony then lived in Sydney and Perth before a period of travelling which ultimately led to the decision to move not only shores, but hemispheres over to the US.
1971 is when Anthony and Richard’s love story starts. They met at a gay bar in downtown Los Angeles, called The Closet. At this time Anthony was in LA for a holiday. That night they decided to meet again, this time at Greta Garbo’s Hollywood Walk Of Fame star. In the following days people would not have found them separated from one another – this was a romance which lasted right up until the sad passing of Richard in 2012, when he passed from cancer.
One of the first problems that the couple faced was Anthony’s status in America, which was that of a tourist. To manage this he would travel regularly to Mexico and back again. However, after a while the Immigration and Naturalisation Service (INS) caught wind of this, leading to the pair needing to find another way to keep Anthony in the country. They then found in 1975 a fearless county clerk named Clela Rorex, who was issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. The plan then came to be that they would marry, so Anthony would be able to stay as he would be Richard’s legal spouse.
During the 1970s, most, if not all the LGBTQI community, understood that it was a trying time for the community due to the discrimination. Over the course of a decade there were a number of people in the States fighting for the rights of people who identified as gay or lesbian.
After a media backlash and protests, the letter that was sent by INS to be retracted. But that wouldn’t stop a 10 year long court battle against the INS (now called United States Citizenship and Immigration Services—USCIS). A history making moment would come as Anthony and Richard would be the first gay couple to sue the United States Government to lawfully recognise a same-sex marriage and relationship to avert Anthony from being deported. However, the couple would lose in the District Court, followed by some years later, in 1982 in the Supreme Court which refused to hear their appeal. The couple would then subsequently pursue further immigration hearings, which sadly led to another loss. With that loss they took that decision to the Federal Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which resulted in yet another loss.
After all of this there was no way that Anthony could steer clear from being deported and if the couple wished to stay together Richard would need to follow. The next port of call was Europe, then a time in Northern Ireland, but this was not easy and the couple found themselves yearning for home. Australia would not be an option due to Anthony’s mother disowning him and most of their friends, and Richard’s family was back in Hollywood. So, in 1986 they returned to the USA via Mexico where they crossed the border by car – with luck and little resistance. They returned to life as a gay couple in LA, the name Anthony gave to the partnership was an “immigration closet.”
Time would ultimately bring a range of difficult periods and experiences. The AIDS crisis throughout the 80s and 90s left the couple mourning and feeling lonely as they hid with the anxiety of Anthony being located and deported again!
Following the protection of same-sex marriages by the US Supreme Court, Anthony requested that USCIS recognise his marriage to Richard and due to being the widower of a US Citizen, to issue him with a Green card. A request which resulted in one of the greatest wins for Anthony. To welcome this win, on the 45th year of being wed to Richard, he received his Green card along with the acknowledgement of their 1975 wedding in Boulder, Colorado. Their marriage and wedding was the first same-sex couple wedding in the Western World. Anthony found this win and recognition brought a mixture of emotions. In a 2015 interview with LA’s The Pride Anthony said, “I desperately wish Richard was here with me for this.”
On November 10, Anthony passed away very suddenly at his home in Hollywood. Anthony is survived by his half brother, Australian Peter Sullivan, his close American family and Richard’s five siblings.