SAN FRANCISCO – About 40 years ago in 1975, Filipino American Richard Salonga Adams and Australian Tony Sullivan were one of the first same-sex couples in the world to be legally married.
When Adams filed for a green card for Sullivan, they received a denial letter from the Immigration and Naturalization Service stating, “You have failed to establish that a bona fide marital relationship can exist between two faggots.”
Outraged at the letter, the couple sued the U.S. government and won — making theirs the first federal lawsuit for marriage equality in U.S. history.
After nearly four decades of legal challenges and paving the way toward marriage equality, their story has become a documentary by director Thomas Miller and premiered in San Francisco at “Frameline38”, the largest LGBT film festival in the world.
Miller and Sullivan were in San Francisco for the premiere.
Unfortunately Adams never got to see the finished film because he passed away in December 2012 at the age of 65.
Miller knew that their story needed to be told since he was aware of other gay couples dealing with immigration issues.
“I was so infuriated by this problem that 40,000 bi-national couples were having that I decided to do a film about it,” said Miller.
Sullivan recollects how he and his husband knew that standing up for what they believed in was going to be difficult.
“At the time we very consciously knew we were taking a stand against prejudice and discrimination,” said Sullivan.
“Immigration laws at the time wouldn’t allow gay people in as tourists and if you were naturalized they’d strip you of your naturalization and put you out of the country but the glue that held it all together was the honesty of our relationship," he added.
Miller also wanted to make the film to show the younger generation that Adams and Sullivan already paved the way toward marriage and immigration equality.
“Part of this is to show them that there’s been people fighting for this for 40 years and now you’re getting the benefit of that but also another reason for making this film is that it’s not over yet,” said Miller.
The documentary has been making its way around the country through various film festival receiving rave reviews.
The film will be featured on the PBS documentary series Independent Lens coming June 2015.
As the movie brings more awareness to marriage and immigration equality, it helps Sullivan keep the memory of Adams alive so other Filipinos can look to his husband’s life for inspiration.
“Young Filipino men and women in this society and even in the Philippines where they run into wonderful homophobia just look to a young man who was born in Manila who spent occasions up in Baguio by the name of Richard Salonga and see his strength and beauty and understand that you too, you too can take a stand for your life and what you believe in,” said Sullivan.