In 2008, after 55 years together, Del Martin, age 87, and Phyllis Lyon, age 84, were finally wed in San Francisco, but it was for the second time. Four years earlier, before same-sex marriage was legalized in the state of California, during a large ceremony honoring their long-standing contributions to LGBTQ activism, they were the first of 90 gay couples to be married illegally by the city’s then-mayor Gavin Newsom.
When Martin and Phyllis made their initial vows as San Francisco’s first same-sex couple, the ceremony was conducted so that their union could potentially be included in a lawsuit to champion marriage equality in the United States. The director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, Kate Kendell, invited them with this promise: “This will hopefully be the last thing the movement will ever ask you to do, but do you wanna get married?”
As lesbian history was unfolding in the 1950s, it was Del and Phyllis who gathered in the home of their friend Rose Bamberger and her partner Rosemary Sliepen and founded the Daughters of Bilitis (DOB), the first lesbian organization in the country. Martin and Lyon would soon become co-editors of the Ladder, DOB’s publication, and grow the readership even amid an era of pervasive homophobia. The pair was also the first lesbian couple to join the National Organization for Women, as feminist causes also spurred their organizing work.
Over the next five decades, Martin and Lyon never stopped organizing, and gradually, thanks in no small part to their efforts, LGBTQ visibility shifted from secrecy to “out and proud” activism.