Adams (plaintiff) married Sullivan after Sullivan’s visitor’s visa expired. Adams and Sullivan are both men. They were married by a minister and received a marriage license from a county clerk in Colorado. Adams then petitioned the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) to classify Sullivan as his spouse, which would make Sullivan eligible to permanently live in the United States based on his status as an immediate relative of an American citizen. The INS denied the petition. The Board of Immigration Appeals affirmed the denial, as did the district court. Adams then appealed to the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.