Richard Adams dies: The activist was an early figure in the gay-marriage debate

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Richard Adams, known as being one of the earliest activists in favor of gay marriage, died on Monday (Dec. 17) after a short illness. He was 65 years old.

Although cause of death has not been released, the man's attorney, Lavi Soloway, told the Associated Press that Adams had died at his Hollywood, CA home in the company of Tony Sullivan, his partner of 43 years.

Adams' travel into the public eye began in 1971, when the two men met at a Los Angeles gay bar. In 1975, the couple traveled to Colorado, where a county clerk named Clela Rorex was granting marriage licenses to homosexual couples. Her reasoning was that nothing in Colorado law actually forbade same-sex marriage. Adams and Sullivan were among the first six couples to get a marriage license from Rorex.

Unfortunately, there was no branch of the federal government willing to recognize the union in the 1970s. The men had married in part to gain U.S. residency status for Sullivan, an Australian citizen. The response was a terse, one-sentence denial that seems beyond shocking by today's standards: "You have failed to establish that a bona fide marital relationship can exist between two fa***ts."

When he took the INS to court in 1979, Adams produced the first federal legislation seeking recognition for gay marriage. The lawsuit failed to move forward, but the litigation brought fame to the couple. In the 1980s, Adams and Sullivan appeared on the "Today" show and "The Phil Donahue Show."

The couple moved to Europe for a year after that, since neither man could gain residency in the other's home country. Eventually, the men settled in Los Angeles. Until recent changes in gay-marriage legislation brought them back into the spotlight, the men had lived quietly for years.

Adams and Sullivan are the subject of an upcoming documentary, "Limited Partnership," and had been working on a legal challenge to the federal Defense of Marriage Act.

Photo/Video credit: Herald Examiner Collection/Los Angeles Public Library