Saturday, April 25, 2015

"Limited Partnership": love story about a male couple, over 40 years; with one an immigrant, marriage matters

Limited Partnership”, directed by Thomas G. Miller (actually a physician, according to the QA), tells the story of a male couple which started a relationship in California in 1971 and has followed history for forty years.  This is a love story (as much as the 1970 film called that).
The couple was Filipino-American Richard Adams, and Australian Tony Sullivan.  The couple applied for a marriage license in Boulder, CO in 1975, and the court clerk and local DA found nothing in the law denying them the right to one.  Later the Colorado AG relented, and their status became vulnerable.  Tony needed to be legally married to stay in the US.  They would go to Mexico and re-enter often to extend Tony’s temporary status.  Eventually the couple lived in Europe and became poor in the 1980s, before returning and gradually re-entering the gay marriage battles in the 90s.

A key event was the US Justice Department's ruling in the late 70s that the federal government would not recognize them as married for immigration purposes, as expressed in notorious the letter referring to them as "faggots".  
The film covers gay history since 1970, showing the anti-gay attitudes expressed in Anita Bryant’s campaign in Florida in 1977, and the Briggs Initiative which attempted to get gay teachers removed in California in 1978 (the film didn’t mention that the initiative did not pass  -- I remember getting the news in a bar in NYC in 1978).  The film doesn’t specifically mention DADT.  Younger gay adults may not grasp today how things were.
The film does mention the AIDS epidemic, but, as the couple was monogamous, it was not exposed, as were many of their friends.
After 9/11, immigration became even testier, and Richard’s health began to fail, as he developed stroke and heart problems and lung cancer.  Richard would pass away at age 65 at the end of 2012, a few months before the Supreme Court would overrule DOMA (the Defense of Marriage Act of 1996, which President Bill Clinton signed).  Sullivan is still trying to get the DOJ to recognize his status as a widower.  Richard's passing was too soon for them to do a legal ceremony in the state of Washington.   
The film was shown at FilmfestDC at Landmark E Street, before a nearly sold-out audience in a large auditorium.  Miller and Sullivan were there for questions.  Sullivan mentioned that libertarians were better on marriage equality than many Democrats, and attributed many anti-gay attitudes of the distant past as indirectly related to propping up heterosexual marriage itself. 
The official site is here.

My own take on this is to put the film inside a much bigger context.  Had I met a "Tony" in 1973 (after my own "second coming"), could I have even created and maintained such a relationship, given the external adversity?  That's its own kind of courage.  Could I have supported someone financially because he could not get a green card?  The moral scope of a question like that grows quickly.  If might even affect political asylum (as from anti-gay countries) today. 
The documentary will air on PBS Independent Lens in June, and be distributed by Cinema Guild.

A good comparison for this film would be "Documented" (May 30, 2014 here).

This new film would almost certainly have played at the West End Cinema in Washington if it were still open. 

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