Tom Miller's Limited Partnership chronicles a forty-year same-sex marriage sealed in Colorado
Boulder County Clerk and Recorder Hillary Hall continues to defy legal threats and issue same-sex marriage licenses -- just as Boulder County Clerk and Recorder Clela Rorex did four decades ago. In his documentary Limited Partnership, the closing night film at this year's Cinema Q film festival, filmmaker Tom Miller follows the forty-year relationship of a couple Rorex married. Using a wealth of archival footage, the film shows how the ban on same-sex marriage and immigration law have impacted the lives of Filipino-American Richard Adams and Australian immigrant Tony Sullivan. In advance of the July 27 program, Westword spoke with Miller about his movie, the equal rights marriage debate and the couple's fight to have their marriage license honored by immigration services.
Courtesy of Tom Miller Tom Miller's documentary Limited Partnership follows the forty-year marriage of Richard Adams and Tony Sullivan.
Westword: Talk about Limited Partnership
Tom Miller: The film is a forty-year love story about two gay men, Richard Adams and Tony Sullivan, who met in 1971. Richard is Filipino American and Tony is Australian. When they met in the '70s, there was no way that two gay people could stay together if one was from another country. In 1975, they heard there were some legal marriage licenses happening in Boulder, Colorado. Clela Rorex, the county clerk and recorder, was issuing marriage licenses; Tony and Richard's was one of them. One of the reasons they got married was so that Tony could get a green card based on being Richard's spouse. They applied to immigration. They got a letter back from Immigration Services saying they didn't believe in the marital relationship of two faggots. When they received that letter, they were just stunned. They ended up suing the federal government for equal marriage rights, which would include immigration rights. They were the first gay couple in U.S. history to ever sue the federal government for that.
The film follows them over a forty-year period as they fought with the government and struggled to stay together all the way through, until we completed filming in 2013.
Talk about your process? How did you connect with them?
I was from the Midwest. I moved to Los Angeles in the early '90s to go to film school. I fell in love with documentary there. I was a gay man, but I was in the closet. I was afraid to come out and be who I was. When I lived in Los Angeles, several of my gay friends were in relationships with men and some of the lesbians with women from other countries. I was realizing that they had no way to stay together.
Ultimately, the power of documentary is that you can tell a story with human faces and change hearts and minds. In 2001, I decided to make a film about these gay couples and their problems with immigration. Doing my research and talking to some other couples, I was introduced to Richard and Tony, who happened to be living in Los Angeles and had this incredible story. That's how I met them. I followed them for fourteen years as I was trying to tell their story.
How many couples were you looking at initially?
Four couples. When I met Richard and Tony, they had done this fight in the '70s and '80s and eventually had to leave the country. Given that their home and their family and their friends were all in America, Tony slipped back into the country with Richard and has been undocumented since the mid-'80s. They were a gay, bi-national couple, but they were living low, just living their life. It was fine with them to be the background and the backstory with where we started in the '70s, just as the gay movement was starting.
I was following three other couples as they were trying to figure out how to stay together, but several of the couples split up because of the pressure of immigration, and Richard and Tony had the best story. In the 2000s, the Bush administration came to power. I knew from what was going on in the country that laws might not be changed at that time, so I put the story away for several years. In 2007, my producing partner and I approached Tony at the point that California approved gay marriage. Then Prop 8 [a California ballot initiative that barred same-sex couples from marrying] was passed. That reunited their spirit and they became the main couple from that point on.
Read on for more from Tom Miller.