Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 8 / 22 February 2018

Lesbian pioneers first in city to wed


Del Martin, left, smiles as Phyllis Lyon prepares to cut the cake following the couple's marriage ceremony that was officiated by Mayor Gavin Newsom. Photo: Jane Philomen Cleland
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In a historic ceremony performed by San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom in a packed room of his office, Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin, who have been together for 55 years, were married Monday, June 16 just after 5 p.m.

The women were the first same-sex couple to marry in the city after the state Supreme Court's ruling May 15 that same-sex couples' right to marry could not be denied. They were the only same-sex couple married at City Hall Monday.

After Newsom led the couple through their vows and exchanging rings, he said, "You've always been destined to enjoy this blessed and extraordinary day. ... It is my extraordinary honor to pronounce you spouses for life."

Lyon, 83, and Martin, 87, then kissed and embraced in front of a room filled with family, friends, city officials, activists, and journalists. As the couple left Newsom's office, people threw rose petals and a swarm of well-wishers greeted them with loud cheers and applause.

"When we first got together, we weren't really thinking about getting married," Lyon said, in front of the couple's wedding cake – and a barrage of lights and cameras. She said it was a "wonderful day."

Lyon and Martin had a marriage ceremony before, on February 12, 2004, after Newsom allowed same-sex couples to wed in San Francisco. lang=EN The state Supreme Court eventually voided the 2004 marriages. But the consolidated marriage case that arose out of the weddings wound its way through the courts and last month, the high court made the ruling that cleared the way for same-sex weddings throughout the state. Lyon and Martin were among the plaintiffs in the Supreme Court case.

"No couple exemplifies what marriage is all about more than these two extraordinary people," Newsom told the crowd outside his office. Like others at the wedding, he noted the decades the two have spent fighting for equality.

"The institution of marriage has been strengthened," Newsom said.

The couple has been making contributions together for more than half a century. In 1955, Lyon and Martin and six other lesbians founded the Daughters of Bilitis, the first national lesbian organization. The Ladder, the group's magazine, reached people nationwide. Lyon and Martin are members of the LGBT Journalists Hall of Fame.

Martin was the first out lesbian elected to the national board of the National Organization for Women in 1973. Lyon-Martin Health Services, founded in 1979, is named after them. In 1995, both women were delegates to the White House Conference of Aging.

While many expressed their joy that the day had finally come, their were also reminders that the struggle isn't over. A proposal to amend the state's consitution to ban same-sex marriages has qualified for the November ballot.

Outside City Hall, both supporters and protesters crowded the sidewalk, holding up signs ranging from "Marriage Equality is here to stay" to "Re-criminalize Sodomy."

According to the Associated Press, on Monday a conservative group asked a court in Sacramento to halt the issuing of gender-neutral marriage licenses. The motion was denied Tuesday.

In response to a question, Newsom said since he was standing in City Hall he couldn't express his opinion or advocate a particular stance "except to say we have work to do."

Many who were present expressed optimism.

Supervisor Bevan Dufty, who's openly gay, said the Supreme Court's decision was cause for a sense of hopefulness.

"The court recognizes our fundamental right as citizens in this society," Dufty said. "You always have faith in the constitution and the goal of equality, and for so long we haven't been part of that discussion." The supervisor said he's hopeful same-sex marriage supporters will prevail in November.

City Attorney Dennis Herrera, whose office led the successful legal challenge to overturn the state's discriminatory marriage law, told those gathered that the day had been "a long time coming," and he expressed confidence supporters would eventually be able to "roll back bigotry and discrimination" throughout the country.

Kate Kendell, executive director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights, which joined with the city in the court case, told the crowd outside the mayor's office the historic day marked "our country, our state, and our lives" being made more full.

"How often do we get to witness that?" she asked. "And we got to witness it today."

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