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Documentary ‘Limited Partnership’ Reviews the Lives of Binational Married Men

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Reflecting on the beginnings as the end draws near.
By Bradley Donalson

In 1975, one of the first same-sex couples to be legally married, Richard Adams and his Australian husband Tony Sullivan applied for a martially based green card. The response they got from the United States Immigration and Nationalization Services: “You have failed to prove that a bona fide marital relationship can exist between two faggots.”

Yes, you read that correctly.

This began a 40-year fight for the government to recognize their relationship, including the first federal court case arguing for the recognition of same-sex marriage, and they are the subjects of Limited Partnership, an Independent Lens documentary.

Sullivan and Adams in 2010. Photo: Courtesy Amy Adler.
Sullivan and Adams in 2010. Photo: Courtesy Amy Adler.

Limited Partnership follows the course of Sullivan and Adams’ battle with the courts. It begins with their meeting in 1971 and falling in love, as well as the ways that Sullivan had to exploit immigration loopholes to stay in the United States with his partner. It takes you through their marriage in Boulder, Colorado, thanks to a brave county clerk who issued six marriage licenses to gay couples before the attorney general forced her to stop. Recounting the moment they got the infamous letter from INS, it lays out the highly publicized legal battle for recognition that the two were forced to go through and the repercussions of an intolerant society—including being forced to leave the country and reenter illegally.

Weaving together news clips, press conferences, and former interviews with the couple, Limited Partnership presents the story of their life together and the hardships that they endured. The documentary explores the many hats that they wore throughout their lives together, from falling in love to overcoming family disappointment, becoming activists to having no country to call home, health problems and the decision to rejoin the limelight of activism as the country moved toward equality.

A powerful and moving documentary, this film educates the world about a couple whose fight has impacted many in ways they don’t even know. Alternating between hopeful and sad, this poignant look into how recognition for same-sex couples has evolved in the past 40 years comes at precisely the right time. This couple’s story is not something that anyone should miss.

Airs Tuesday, June 16, at 10 p.m. CST, on PBS. Details:


Bradley Donalson

Bradley Donalson is a frequent contributor to OutSmart magazine.
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