The hoopla over same-sex marriage in California that was sparked by San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom’s act of civil disobedience has come to a close, with the California State Supreme Court ruling that the DOMA-like law preventing same-sex marriage that voters had passed by ballot initiative was unconstitutional. As of this past Monday, marriage licenses will be issued without regard to the gender of the applicants.
Back in 2004, when San Francisco issued marriage licenses to same-sex couples despite California’s law prohibiting the act, life-long lesbian activists Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin were the first couple to be married. Although Martin and Lyon had been critical of the institution of marriage in the past, they saw this as an issue of unequal access to rights.
Back even further, in 1955, when the lesbian and gay movement did not even exist, Phyllis and Del were among those who founded the first lesbian rights organization in the country, which published the first lesbian newsletter, The Ladder. The whole lesbian and gay movement that some people think emerged at the Stonewall riots in 1969* really rests on the work of these pioneers who shepherded the movement through the repressive McCarthy era.
So, 55 years into their life-long relationship, Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin were married on Monday in a ceremony officiated by Gavin Newsom. Congratulations to the happy couple, and to all the other newlyweds in California.
*See Elizabeth A. Armstrong and Suzanna Crage. 2006. “Movements and Memory: The Making of the Stonewall Myth.” American Sociological Review 71:724-51 for an excellent analysis of the movement underpinnings of the Stonewall riot and its commemoration.