Phyllis Lyon and
Del Martin fell in love at a time when lesbians risked
being arrested, fired from their jobs and sent to
afternoon, more than a half-century after they became a
couple, Lyon and Martin plan to become the first
same-sex couples to legally exchange marriage vows in
San Francisco and among the first in the state.
something you wanted to know, 'Is it really going to
happen?' And now it's happened, and maybe it can
continue to happen,'' Lyon said.
Mayor Gavin Newsom plans to officiate at the private
ceremony in his City Hall office before 50 invited guests.
He picked Martin, 87, and Lyon, 84, for the front of
the line in recognition of their long relationship and
their status as pioneers of the gay rights movement.
Along with six
other women, they founded a San Francisco social club for
lesbians in 1955 called the Daughters of Bilitis. Under
their leadership, it evolved into the nation's first
lesbian advocacy organization. They have the FBI files
to prove it.
Monday will, in fact, be a marriage do-over.
In February 2004,
San Francisco's new mayor decided to challenge
California's marriage laws by issuing marriage licenses to
same-sex couples. His advisers and gay rights
activists knew right away which couple would put the
most compelling human face on the issue: Martin and
Back then, the
couple planned to celebrate their 51st anniversary as
live-in lovers on Valentine's Day. Because of their work
with the Daughters, they also were icons in the gay
''Four years ago,
when they agreed to be married, it was in equal parts
to support the mayor and to support the idea that lesbians
and gay people formed committed relationships and
should have those relationships respected,'' says Kate
Kendell, a close friend and executive director of the
National Center for Lesbian Rights.
Lyon and Martin
vividly recall the excitement of being secretly swept
into the clerk's office, saying ''I do'' in front of a tiny
group of city staff members and friends, and then
being rushed out of the building. There were no
corsages, no bottles of champagne. Afterward they went to
lunch, just the two of them, at a restaurant run as a job
training program for participants in a substance abuse
nobody down there knew, so we were left to be by ourselves
like we wanted to be,'' said Martin, the less gregarious of
the two. ''Then we came home.''
TV,'' added Lyon.
The privacy was
short-lived. Their wedding portrait, showing the couple
cradling each other in pastel-colored pantsuits with their
foreheads tenderly touching, drew worldwide attention.
would become legal in Massachusetts in another three
months, but San Francisco's calculated act of civil
disobedience drove the debate.
In the month that
followed, more than 4,000 other couples followed Martin
and Lyon down the aisle before a judge acting on petitions
brought by gay marriage opponents halted the city's
The state Supreme
Court ultimately voided the unions, but the women were
among the two dozen couples who served as plaintiffs in the
lawsuits that led the same court last month to
overturn California's ban on gay marriage.
They were having
their morning coffee when Lyon heard the news on the
radio. She rushed across the house to embrace Martin. Not
long after, Newsom called to offer congratulations and
to ask if they would be willing to be at the forefront
''Sure,'' was the
answer they gave.
The couple, who
live in the same San Francisco house they bought in 1956,
do not get out much now. Martin needs a wheelchair to get
around. Although they plan to briefly greet
well-wishers at City Hall after the ceremony, they are
having a private reception for friends and family.
endearing because they do seem excited and a little bit
nervous,'' Kendell said. ''It's like the classic feelings
anyone has as their wedding day approaches.''
Because a few
other clerk's offices agreed to stay open until the court's
decision becomes final at 5 p.m. PDT, other couples planning
late afternoon weddings may already have tied the knot
before the mayor pronounces Lyon and Martin ''spouses
They don't mind.
They know they already are.
''We get along
well,'' Lyon said. ''And we love each other.''
''I love you,
too,'' Martin said. (Lisa Leff, AP)