U.S. Supreme Court

Gay couple got Colorado marriage license in 1975 but lost deportation case; Kennedy wrote opinion

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A documentary set to air on PBS tracks the legal troubles of a gay couple who obtained a marriage license in Boulder, Colorado, long before Massachusetts became the first state to recognize same-sex marriage as a result of a 2003 court decision.

Anthony Corbett Sullivan and Richard Frank Adams received a marriage license in 1975 from a county clerk who had previously given a marriage license to another gay couple, the Washington Post reports. Sullivan, an Australian, applied for a spouse’s visa to remain in the United States.

The U.S. government denied the application, with this response: “You have failed to establish that a bona fide marital relationship can exist between two faggots.”

Adams filed suit to obtain an immigrant visa for Sullivan, and the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against him. Even if Sullivan and Adams were legally married, the opinion said, the immigration service had not shown an intention to expand the definition of marriage to include gay couples, the court said.

A new suit, filed by Sullivan, argued his deportation would constitute an extreme hardship because gays are not accepted in Australia and even his own family had turned against him.

Once again, the 9th Circuit ruled against the couple. Even if Sullivan’s arguments were true, the court said, they don’t necessarily establish extreme hardship as defined by immigration law. The author of the opinion was then-Judge Anthony M. Kennedy, who went on to become the Supreme Court justice who wrote key rulings in support of gays, including the opinion striking down gay sodomy laws.

Sullivan and Adams left to live in Northern Ireland, but they returned to the United States and stayed in what Sullivan calls the “immigration closet,” according to the Washington Post story. Adams died of cancer in 2012. Sullivan later received a work permit and an apology for the “faggots” letter from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

The documentary, “Limited Partnership,” will air on June 15.

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