Veteran LGBT activist Phyllis Lyon tells us “It will be OK”

By now, we’ve all heard the depressing news that the California Supreme Court has upheld Proposition 8, making marriage illegal for same sex couples. LGBT groups are already planning the next move, and demonstrations are planned in California and all over the United States tonight.

(See for the latest updates on this news, and go to for information on rally times and locations.)

The little good news about this issue today is that the 18,000 or so couples who got married before voters passed Prop 8 are still legally married.

The first of those couples in San Francisco was Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin, together for 50 years when they were legally wed on June 16, 2008.

Together, they founded the Daughters of Bilitis (DOB) in San Francisco in 1955 (the first social and political organization for lesbians in the U.S.). Lyon was the original editor of The Ladder, the first nationally distributed lesbian publication in the U.S., founded in 1956.

Martin died in August 2008, and, at the time, Lyon said, “I am devastated, but I take some solace in knowing we were able to enjoy the ultimate rite of love and commitment before she passed.”

Today, is running an uplifting piece about their lives together, their marriage and Lyon’s opinion about what the future holds for gay rights.

In the article, Lyon says that she and Martin hadn’t originally been too concerned with getting married, focusing instead on the other forms of discrimination faced by lesbians and gays.

We never even thought about getting married back then. It didn’t become an issue for a long time — in fact, it never was much of an issue for us. The gay rights movement was new, and there were so many other issues. We wanted a law that would keep people from getting fired because they were gay. We wanted a law that made it illegal to throw people out of their houses because they were gay. We were feminists, and a lot of the feminist movement was opposed to marriage because the institution gave men power over women. We hadn’t really thought about marriage, and we’d certainly never thought about getting married ourselves. It wasn’t an option.

That changed when San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom took matters into his own hands in 2004, ordering that same sex couples who wanted to get married be issued marriage certificates.

Then, in 2004, it all bubbled up. A day or so before Mayor Newsom announced that San Francisco would allow marriages, we got a call saying we were going to be the first couple. I don’t know that anybody asked us. It was just, you’re going to do this. They had picked us to be the first couple.

Kate Kendell [executive director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights] came over and picked us up. Luckily, each of us had just gotten a new pantsuit. Kate whisked us down to City Hall and into Mabel Teng’s office. She was the recorder, and she was the one who was going to do the wedding. We realized we didn’t have rings. Who’d thought about rings? We borrowed them.

Afterward, Lyon recalled, “We got home around noon. We looked at each other and said, ‘We’re all dressed up, what are we going to do?’ I said, ‘I don’t know, but there’s not a damn thing in the house for lunch.’ So we went down to our favorite restaurant by the waterfront. It was all very peaceful and calm.”

Martin and Lyon on their wedding day in 2008

Newsom’s attempt to help same sex couples marry was soon halted, and Lyon says, “It didn’t really surprise us when the court stopped the marriages. We thought it was pretty stupid and that they’d be sorry one day. We became part of the suit challenging California’s ban on gay marriage.”

When gay marriage became legal in California in 2008, they were once again the first same-sex couple to get married in San Francisco.

Lyon says that Martin died “a married woman,” before the passage of Prop 8.

A veteran fighter for LGBT rights, Lyon remains upbeat, telling

I’m optimistic about the future. Look at all the states that have now done this. Boom. Boom. Boom. Boom. They may not all last. But it’s going to be all right. It may not be while I’m alive, but eventually it will work out that if two people want to get married, they can get married and it won’t matter to whom. We went through this before with people of color. It will be OK.


Hopefully, she’s right.

What are your thoughts on Lyon’s prediction?