April 28, 2015 at 12:10 am EST | by Chris Johnson
Marriage plaintiffs gather to celebrate on eve of arguments
Evan Wolfson hosted a reception for plaintiff same-sex couples in the marriage cases. (Blade photo by Michael Key)

Evan Wolfson hosted a reception for plaintiff same-sex couples in the marriage cases. (Blade photo by Michael Key)

John Sullivan had a singular quote in mind on Monday when asked about his internal thoughts the day before oral arguments in litigation before the U.S. Supreme Court that could enable same-sex couples to marry across the nation.

“I think I’ll quote my spouse, who, before he died, and he didn’t know he was going to die when he said it, but prophetically said, ‘You know I could die before this is settled,’ but he said, ‘I know now we’re going to win,'” Sullivan said. “And so, that’ll be my quote.”

The 75-year-old Australian national is credited along his new deceased spouse, Richard Frank Adams, as being one of the first same-sex couples to wed in country after they received a marriage license in Boulder County in 1975. At that time Immigration & Naturalization Service wouldn’t recognize their union, saying a marital relationship can’t exist between “two faggots.”

The couple lost their appeal in an 1985 decision written by then-U.S. Circuit Judge Anthony Kennedy, who’s since that time has joined the U.S. Supreme Court and written landmark gay rights cases, including the ruling striking down the Defense of Marriage Act. The couple’s story is the subject of an upcoming documentary called “Limited Partnership.”

Sullivan was among the dozens of plaintiff same-sex couples at a reception hosted by the LGBT group Freedom to Marry at the D.C.-based law firm Holland & Knight on the eve of oral arguments of marriage cases before the Supreme Court.

Asked whether he could envision a day when then Supreme Court would decide whether same-sex couples have a right to marry nationwide, Sullivan said he and his spouse had a glimmer of hope even when they obtained a marriage licenses in 1975.

“It was our hope; it was our desire,” Sullivan said. “Our marriage was valid in every way because we truly loved each other, but we knew what we were doing when we started and we realized there was a severe injustice, and we decided to go ahead because we said someone’s got to correct injustice.”

And what would be his reaction if the Supreme Court were to deliver a ruling in favor of marriage equality across the country?

“I can’t really say because there’s been so much now, it almost tends to be anti-climatic for me,” Sullivan said. “Richard and I married so we wouldn’t be separated. He died a couple years ago, and we weren’t separated, so we feel we won our battle, so now I’m in the luxury of being able to observe as well as have personal involvement. What I do have is a sadness that Richard’s not here.”

Evan Wolfson, president of Freedom to Marry, took note of all the plaintiffs in room that evening and contributions they made to the marriage movement over the course of the last few decades.

“There’s not going to be any speeches tonight,” Wolfson said. “We’ve made our case to the country, and to the courts, and tonight is savoring the moment and looking forward in great hope.”

Also appearing at the reception was Valerie Jarrett, senior adviser to President Obama, who announced that she would attend the oral arguments before the Supreme Court on behalf of the Obama administration.

“Our true north in the administration is that no matter who you are, no matter what zip code you grew up in, no matter what your parents did, no matter what your faith, no matter what your race, no matter what your gender identity, no matter what you believe in or who you love, you ought to be able to have equal opportunity in this country,” Jarrett said.

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White House Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett and Freedom to Marry President Evan Wolfson (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Coming to the event were more than 80 plaintiff couples in current and past marriage cases from more than 30 states as well as dozens of attorneys in their legal teams.

The plaintiffs in the various marriage cases from past and present had differing thoughts as oral arguments approach in what is seen as the final stretch for same-sex marriage in the United States.

April DeBoer, who, along with Jayne Rowze, is the plaintiff couple in the Michigan marriage case currently pending before the Supreme Court, said their thoughts are with their children whom they sought to co-adopt of a result of the lawsuit they filed.

“We brought this case before the Supreme Court for our rights and for our children’s rights, so we’re really thinking of them and of all the people that out there who are supporting us and all of their love and well-wishes as well,” DeBoer said.

Rowze said the outpouring of support they received has been “overwhelming” as their case heads to oral arguments and many people have come to join them in D.C.

“This is such an historic moment in the LGBT community that people realize, ‘I can’t just sit by, I want to be a part of this,’ and we’re so honored to be the face of this right now,” Rowze said.

Also present at the reception were Genora Dancel and Ninia Baehr from the Hawaii lawsuit in the 1990s. Although the two have since separated, they remain on good terms and appeared together at the event adorned in leis.

Twenty-four years after she first sought to obtain a marriage license in Hawaii, Dancel expressed excitement about the change in the air on the cusp of nationwide victory.

“People get it now,” Dancel said. “The message back then, it was clearly a different world. We fought against all sorts of discrimination. And it was just a novel idea for some people and a lot of people had fought it in the beginning. And so, my feelings, what I’m trying to get to, to answer your question, I’m feeling from the beginning to now, I’m really excited, and I’m reflecting on all the emotions that came with that.”

Baehr reflected on the sea change of attitudes on the marriage issue since they filed their controversial lawsuit in Hawaii decades ago.

“When we started, people thought we were crazy and the national LGBT organizations and civil rights organizations didn’t want to take this case, they didn’t think this was a winnable issue,” Baehr said. “We’ve seen things change in the gay community and the world so much since then. And I know that it seems like it’s happened quickly — in a way 25 years to get from zero to hopefully country-wide legalized — but it’s taken half of our lives. So for us, it seems like a long time.”

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Ninia Baehr and Genora Dancel, plaintiffs in the 1999 Hawaii same-sex marriage suit Baehr v. Miike, attended a Freedom to Marry reception at the law offices of Holland & Knight on April 27, 2015. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Julie Goodridge, one-half of the same-sex couple that filed the lawsuit instituting marriage equity in Massachusetts ten years ago, expressed satisfaction that Mary Bonauto, the lawyer who handled her case, is poised to give oral arguments before the Supreme Court on behalf of gay nuptials.

“I’m completely thrilled that Mary’s arguing the case,” Goodridge said. “That’s why I came down, that’s why I’m going in. I’m very, very excited about it. I’m really hopeful that she convinces them.”

Goodridge attributed the growth in support for marriage equality since her case more than 10 years ago to the decision of LGBT people to come out of the closet.

“I also think it’s brought a lot of exposure, good exposure — even with all the conflict and the bullshit — I think it’s brought really good exposure to all the consonants of the LGBTQ group,” Goodridge said. “I feel like I know it’s time to work. If get this and hopefully we will, there’s so many people out there that need our help and need our support, and that’s what we need to work on next.”

Julie Goodridge (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Julie Goodridge (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Kris Perry, one-half of the lesbian couple in the Proposition 8 case that restored marriage equality to California, was among the plaintiffs sharing in the optimism of a favorable ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court.

“What I’m feeling right now is just so optimistic and hopeful that the justices will see their way to a majority vote in favor of equality and fairness and all of these wonderful, loving couples from all over the country will get to realize their dream of being married, and frankly have access to something everybody has to access to,” Perry said.

For Perry, the time from when she filed her lawsuit until now — the course of six years — was relatively recent compared to other plaintiffs at the event. Nonetheless, she expressed enthusiasm over the idea the rest of the country could soon California in marriage equality.

“We went from having fewer than 10 states with marriage equality to 37 plus D.C. and that just seems like a such a vast improvement and such a big majority and those outlier states, those 13 states really should get to join the rest of country and experience the protection under the 14th Amendment and all of the other things the rest of us have,” Perry said.

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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