Fourteen years in the making, the documentary “Limited Partnership” is the true-life gay-rights love story of Richard Adams and Anthony (“Tony”) Sullivan. Richard and Tony gained notoriety in the 1970s and 80s when forced to choose between leaving the United States and leaving each other. The story, while not unusual, is underexposed. “Limited Partnership” tells this story so beautifully and with such poignancy that might make even fundamentalists reconsider gay rights.
Caught in the shifting social currents of the early 1970s, when gays and lesbians were still considered sexual deviants, Richard and Tony met in Los Angeles and fell deeply in love. Richard is a naturalized citizen from the Philippines while Tony is an Australian citizen. They made Los Angeles their home and established a life there, with family and friends surrounding them. In 1975, the couple was able to obtain a marriage license in Boulder, Colorado and celebrated with a simple ceremony. The ensuing tribulations are heartbreaking as this lovely couple is forced to endure vicissitudes of electoral politics. They were made to feel as if they were to be ashamed of themselves, just as black people were forced to use different bathrooms and women were not allowed to vote. This point is brought home by a powerful document the couple received from the INS, not only denying their application for Tony’s citizenship based upon marriage, but going to far as to use wording meant to belittle and humiliate - “faggots.”
This indignant and poignant new documentary, directed by Tom Miller, offers a lot of insight into the ideology and psychology, as well as the rapidly changing landscape, of homophobia and the struggles of marriage equality. Miller explains, “I met Richard and Tony back in 2001 when my intent was to document several bi-national gay couples who were trying to figure out ways to stay together in this country. So making this film has been a very long journey, filled with lots of unexpected twists and turns. I was immediately very moved by Tony and Richard’s love and commitment to the cause. One of the first scenes we shot was Richards’ family celebrating Tony’s 60th birthday in 2002. As a gay American, it was so heartwarming and life affirming for me to see such love and acceptance in a multi-cultural, religious, extended family covering three generations.”
Miller continues, “But the political climate of the U.S. at the time made it difficult to imagine progress being made – the conservative Bush administration had taken over control of the country, and any chance for change in same-sex marriage and immigration laws had become non-existent. So I put the movie away for several years in hopes of a brighter future. When gay marriage became legal in California in 2008 it seemed like the right time to resume shooting. Since that time, we have been focusing solely on Richard and Tony’s journey as a way to show the long road to marriage and immigration equality. These past six years have been filled with many ups and downs, but I feel so fortunate that Richard and Tony have allowed me to document these last chapters in their struggle for justice.”
The documentary relies heavily and utilizes archived footage as well as home movies of the couple. Many first hand interviews are also included in telling the story from several vantage points. Whatever their aesthetic limitations, the documentary brilliantly portrays the emotional aspects and the public ridicule to which this couple was subjected. The format makes sense given the still-burning political currency of its subject matter.
The argument that the dignity and full citizenship of gay men and lesbians are undermined is marked by the declaration of victory with with the U.S. Supreme Court landmark ruling on June 26, 2013, that led in part to the expansion of gay marriage rights in states across the U.S.
The documentary illustrates the plight of gay and lesbian couples to live, without shame or apology, and to be afforded the rights extended to married couples. Miller adds, “I would also like for Richard and Tony to be recognized for their part in gay history. Even though their story is well documented, I am surprised by how few people within the gay community actually know about it. They are truly pioneers in the fight for equal rights.”
When asked what he hopes the audience will take away from “Limited Partnership,” producer and writer, Kirk Marcolina replied, “Many people think that marriage equality has come quickly. Richard and Tony’s struggle shows this isn’t the case. My hope is this film will provide both historical context and deeply moving and personal story that shows how social progress is achieved.”
Miller adds, “With DOMA and Prop-8 overturned in June 2013 and more and more states allowing same-sex couples to be married, things seem to be moving in the right direction. But full equality is far from assured and this issue continues to polarize the country. Many challenges to same-sex marriage are heading to the U.S. district courts at this time. It appears likely that the U.S. Supreme court will have to rule on equal acceptance and recognition of same-sex marriage in all states in June 2015. By showing the 40-year plight of Richard and Tony, my hope is that Limited Partnership will become part of the national dialogue on both immigration and same-sex marriage issues.”
Marcolina and Miller discussed what it was like to work with Richard and Tony in bringing this story to the silver screen.
MARCOLINA: Tony and Richard are role models for me. It’s incredible to see a couple who stood up for their love and fought everyone and everything to stay together – no matter what the cost. I am inspired by their commitment and perseverance and feel truly blessed to have had the chance to get to know these two amazing pioneers.
MILLER: At first Richard and Tony were a bit reluctant to be included in the film, and just wanted to discuss their historical role in dealing with same-sex marriage and immigration equality. They felt their story was in the past as they weren't actively involved in the movement. But when Prop-8 and the gay marriage movement heated up in 2008 they re-emerged as activists. They reached a point in their lives when they couldn’t continue to sit and watch from the sidelines, and it was at that point they fully committed to sharing their story with us. I feel very privileged to have had the opportunity to become friends with Richard and Tony, and am honored that they put their trust in us to tell their story. At times we were filming during very personal and difficult moments – but Richard and Tony were always willing to open up and share what they were going through.
For more information, visit the Limited Partnership Official Site.
Limited Partnership Trailer
Opens on June 14, 2014, limited theatrical release.
Written and directed by Thomas G. Miller; written and produced by Kirk Marcolina, composer – Allyson Newman. Running time: 74 minutes. This film is not yet rated.