Richard Adams, who nearly four decades ago legally married his male partner in Colorado and, in the first lawsuit of its kind, tried unsuccessfully to have their marriage recognized by the federal government, died on Dec. 17 at his home in Los Angeles. He was 65.
Mr. Adams died after a short illness, his lawyer, Lavi Soloway, said.
In April 1975, Mr. Adams and his partner, Tony Sullivan, wed in Colorado, one of a half-dozen gay couples granted marriage licenses there by the Boulder County clerk's office. Though Boulder County stopped issuing such licenses almost immediately, the couple's marriage, which lasted until Mr. Adams's death, was never legally voided.
Their case, in which a marriage between same-sex partners is recognized on the state level but not the federal, prefigured the current national debate over gay marriage by almost 40 years.
The two men had leapt at the chance to marry in the hope of securing permanent resident status for Mr. Sullivan, an Australian citizen.
But when, after the wedding, they submitted an application to the United States Immigration and Naturalization Service, as the agency was then known, they received this official reply:
"You have failed to establish," the letter read, "that a bona fide marital relationship can exist between two faggots."
The couple sued the agency, seeking resident status for Mr. Sullivan on the basis of their Colorado marriage. Theirs was the first lawsuit in the country to seek recognition of a same-sex marriage by the federal government.
The suit was ultimately rejected in the 1980s by the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, as was a second suit the couple brought against the I.N.S.
The marriage of Mr. Adams and Mr. Sullivan and the legal odyssey it engendered are the subject of a documentary film, "Limited Partnership," directed by Tom Miller and scheduled to be released next year.
Richard Frank Salanga was born in Manila on March 9, 1947, and moved with his family to the United States when he was 12. As a child, he was given the surname of his stepfather, Richard Adams.
Reared in Long Prairie, Minn., the younger Richard Adams studied liberal arts at the University of Minnesota before moving to Los Angeles, where he spent his early career as a car rental agent for Avis.
Mr. Adams met Mr. Sullivan in a bar in Los Angeles in 1971. Mr. Sullivan, who was making a round-the-world trip, was in the United States on a tourist visa. After they fell in love and settled in Los Angeles, they cast about for a way to keep Mr. Sullivan from being deported.
In 1975, they heard about Clela Rorex, the Boulder County clerk. That year, Ms. Rorex had received an application for a marriage license from two men. After consulting the local district attorney, who found nothing in the law to prevent it, she issued one.
Soon afterward, she issued five more licenses to same-sex couples. Mr. Adams and Mr. Sullivan received Colorado Marriage License No. 1860, and were married on April 21 in the First Unitarian Church of Denver.
By the mid-1980s, with their appeals exhausted, Mr. Sullivan had to leave the country. The couple lived in Europe for about a year before returning to Los Angeles. Most recently, before his retirement in 2010, Mr. Adams worked as an administrative assistant in a Los Angeles law firm.
Though the couple lived quietly so as not to draw notice from immigration officials -- Mr. Sullivan's immigration status remains unresolved, Mr. Soloway said -- they did appear in public in later years to speak on behalf of same-sex marriage initiatives.
Besides Mr. Sullivan, Mr. Adams's survivors include his mother, Elenita Adams; a brother, Dickie; and four sisters, Stella, Kathy, Julie and Tammie.
In September, the Obama administration directed United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement, an arm of the Department of Homeland Security, to consider foreign same-sex partners of United States citizens as family members when weighing deportation cases.
The new policy, Mr. Soloway said on Monday, "directly addressed the primary challenge that Tony and Richard faced in 1975: to be together in this country, to be together as a family."
Correction: December 25, 2012, Tuesday
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction: An earlier version of this obituary misnamed, at one point, which spouse was seeking resident status in the United States. It was Mr. Sullivan, not Mr. Adams.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.