Gay Widower Asks for Marriage-Based Green Card

Anthony Sullivan spent more than 40 years with his husband, Richard Adams, before Adams died in 2012. Now Sullivan, an Australian national, is asking U.S. immigration services to recognize the couple's marriage and recognize him as the surviving spouse of a U.S. citizen.

BY Sunnivie Brydum

April 21 2014 2:48 PM ET

Anthony Sullivan with his 1975 marriage license and subsequent letter of denial for a green card from Immigration and Naturalization Services. 

A 72-year-old gay widower originally from Australia is petitioning U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to re-open and approve his marriage-based request for a green card that was denied back in 1975, according to the DOMA Project.

On Monday morning, Anthony Sullivan, an Australian immigrant, asked the Los Angeles office of USCIS to re-open and reconsider his marriage-based application for a green card, 39 years to the day after he and his late husband married in a historic ceremony in Colorado. 

Sullivan and his late spouse, Richard Adams, were together for more than 40 years, until Adams died in 2012. The men married on April 21, 1975, after learning that a county clerk in Boulder, Colo., was issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. The Los Angeles-based couple returned to California with a marriage certificate and applied for a marriage-based green card with what was then the Immigration and Naturalization Service. 

In a letter dated November 24, 1975, INS denied the couple's petition with a single, defamatory sentence. 

"You have failed to establish that a bona fide marital relationship can exist between two faggots," read the letter, signed by the INS district director. The couple appealed the decision for 10 years, ultimately losing their battle for legal recognition and Sullivan's permanent residency in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. 

But Sullivan's motion, filed today in Los Angeles, seeks to reverse that discriminatory decision and give Sullivan access to the survivor benefits that any heterosexual immigrant would be granted after the death of their lawfully married U.S. citizen spouse. 

"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," said Lavi S. Soloway, a partner in the immigration law firm Masliah & Soloway, which is representing Sullivan and is the firm that in 2010 founded the DOMA Project, 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. "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." 

After the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a key segment of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act in a landmark ruling in last June, numerous federal agencies announced that each would begin recognizing same-sex spouses for a variety of purposes. Among those announcements was confirmation from Janet Napolitano, the secretary of Homeland Security, that the department would consider legally married same-sex couples to be eligible for the same spousal sponsorship immigration benefits as those already afforded to married heterosexual binational couples.

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