Gay Immigrant Seeks Reversal of Infamous 1975 Green Card Denial, Based on Historic Same-Sex Marriage

On Monday, April 21, at 10 a.m., Anthony Sullivan, a 72-year-old gay immigrant, will ask the Los Angeles Field Office of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”) to reopen his marriage-based green card petition which this same office denied four decades ago.

Recent image of Anthony Sullivan holding the original INS denial letter from November 24, 1975, and original marriage certificate from April 21, 1975 (Photo Credit: Erin Taylor)

Recent image of Anthony Sullivan holding the original INS denial letter from November 24, 1975, and original marriage certificate from April 21, 1975 (Photo Credit: Erin Taylor)

In a letter dated November 24, 1975 and addressed to Sullivan’s spouse, Richard Adams, the former Immigration and Naturalization Service (“INS”) wrote only a single inflammatory sentence to deny the petition:

You have failed to establish that a bona fide marital relationship can exist between two faggots.

1982 rejection of Richard and Tony's case by the US Supreme Court

1982 rejection of Richard and Tony’s case by the US Supreme Court

Anthony Sullivan and Richard Adams fought back in a high-profile lawsuit, demanding that the federal government recognize their marriage for immigration purposes.  Following ten years of litigation, they lost in a final ruling at the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Sixteen months after the death of his spouse in December 2012, Sullivan now returns to fight for recognition of their marriage and for a green card, this time as the widower of an American citizen. By filing a Motion to Reopen and Reconsider with USCIS, Sullivan will ask that Adams’ 1975 green card petition be retroactively approved and automatically converted to a widower’s petition, which would give Sullivan the right to apply for a green card. This would be consistent with what is a routine procedure available to opposite-sex couples in similar circumstances. Sullivan and Adams were together for 41 years after first meeting on May 5, 1971 at a Los Angeles gay bar called “The Closet.” Soon after they started dating, Sullivan and Adams decided they wanted to be married. On April 21, 1975, after learning that the county clerk in Boulder, Colorado was issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, Adams, a naturalized U.S. citizen, married Sullivan who is Australian. The couple returned home to Los Angeles and Richard Adams immediately filed a green card petition with INS on Sullivan’s behalf for the spouse of an American citizen. They became one of the first gay couples in American history to legally marry and the first same-sex couple to sue the U.S. government for recognition of their marriage.

Richard Adams and Anthony Sullivan in 1975 (Photo Credit: Pat Rocco)

Richard Adams and Anthony Sullivan in 1975 (Photo Credit: Pat Rocco)

Thirty-nine years to the day since Anthony Sullivan and Richard Adams were legally married, Sullivan continues to fight for the right to have their marriage recognized by the federal government. On June 26, 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the law preventing the U.S. government from recognizing legally married same-sex couples, finding that discrimination against married same-sex couples violates the Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection. A few days later, the then-Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano, announced that USCIS would recognize same-sex marriages for immigration purposes.

On April 21, Anthony Sullivan and his attorney, Lavi Soloway, will give the Immigration Service and the Obama administration a unique opportunity to correct an historic wrong and reverse the gross injustice of its denial of the 1975 petition by putting Sullivan on the path to a green card.

Original INS denial letter issued to Richard Adams

Original INS denial letter issued to Richard Adams

“We are asking the government to reopen and reconsider the denial of the marriage-based green card petition filed by Richard Adams in 1975 and to approve that petition.  In doing so, the Immigration Service will fulfill the promise of equality guaranteed by the Constitution. Granting our motion and approving this petition is consistent with the recent policies of the administration and the Immigration Service to recognize the marriages of same-sex couples. The widows and widowers of gay and lesbian Americans who seek to resolve their immigration status must have access to the provisions of law already available to other surviving spouses of U.S. citizens who are permitted to self-petition for a green card,” said Lavi S. Soloway, a partner in the immigration law firm, Masliah & Soloway. The firm’s partners, Noemi Masliah and Lavi Soloway, founded The DOMA Project in 2010, a pro bono advocacy and education campaign focused on the historic exclusion of married gay and lesbian couples under U.S. immigration law and its lasting effects.

“Although we are sad Richard Adams did not live to see this day, we are optimistic the government will grant this Motion to Reopen and take the necessary steps to fulfill his desire that Mr. Sullivan be granted lawful permanent resident status by issuing a green card on the basis of their marriage. This unprecedented request is a matter of basic decency and tests our American ideals of equality and justice. We are asking the federal government, at long last, to treat this marriage with the dignity and respect it deserves, and, in so doing, to repudiate the unacceptable and hateful language that was used by INS in 1975.” Soloway said.

Original marriage license issued to Richard Adams and Antony Sullivan

Marriage License and Marriage Certificate confirming the lawful marriage of Richard Adams and Anthony Sullivan as issued and registered by Boulder County, Colorado on April 21, 1975. Note: this certified copy was obtained from the Boulder County Clerk and Recorder on April 8, 2014.

Listen to QP Exclusive: Interview with Anthony Sullivan, Equal Rights Pioneer

Follow-up Interview with Anthony Sullivan:

View Event Photos and Updates

 View a list of archival documents for press

Read Written Statement from Anthony Sullivan


For further information, please contact David Valk or Erin Taylor at (323) 577-9365 or [email protected].


  • We love you Tony and look forward to celebrating your green card with you. Much Love Tamra O.

    April 22, 2014
  • So Happy that things are looking up and up. What a wonderful article and exclusive interview. Congrats!

    May 6, 2014

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This is a pro-bono project of the law firm of Masliah & Soloway, PC. Posts on this website are offered for informational purposes only and do not constitute legal advice. The law firm of Masliah & Soloway, PC has offices in New York and Los Angeles. Our practice is limited to U.S. Immigration & Nationality Law.