Their story began in Los Angeles in 1971. Tony, an Australian citizen, was on vacation when he first encountered Richard at a Hollywood gay bar named The Closet. For their first date, they agreed to meet at Greta Garbo’s star on Hollywood Boulevard. Sparks quickly turned to love. But Tony’s tourist visa was running out, so they needed to find a way to stay together.
After other ideas failed, they heard about a clerk in Boulder, Colorado who had issued a few marriage licenses to gay couples. They flew to Boulder and, on April 21, 1975, were legally married by the State of Colorado. They quickly applied for citizenship for Tony as Richard’s legal “spouse.” But in response they received a letter from the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service stating it did not recognize “that a bona fide marital relationship can exist between two faggots.” Thus began a ten-year battle through the federal court system that took them all the way to the steps of the Supreme Court.
On September 30, 1985, when his final appeal was exhausted, Tony was ordered to leave the country. With nothing to lose the couple took their case to the “court of public opinion” -- the national media. They appeared on The Donahue Show and The Today Show, but no one came to their aid. So on November 23, 1985, Richard and Tony left the United States together. They moved around Australia and Europe for a year in search of a home. Finally, despondant and feeling like men without a country, they slipped back into the U.S., where they have continued to live together under the radar ever since.
While their legal battles may have ended for now, the legacy of their losses lives on. In deciding the case of “Adams v. Howerton” in 1982, the Ninth Circuit set the precedent that defines “spouse” as an opposite sex partner for the purposes of immigration law, predating the Defense of Marriage Act by 14 years. To this day, judges continue using this ruling as the legal basis to deport gay bi-national couples in California.