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Equality Begins in California

Equality Begins in California


In a fitting start to marriage equality, longtime lesbian activists marry in San Francisco and Los Angeles.

More than 55 years after they first met, longtime partners and human rights activists Del Martin, 87, and Phyllis Lyon, 83, at 5:01 Monday night became the first same-sex couple to be married in San Francisco. The women's nuptials kicked off what is expected to be a crush of weddings on Tuesday -- following a California supreme court ruling last month that legalized gay marriage.

Martin and Lyon were wedded in a private ceremony in the office of San Francisco mayor Gavin Newson. Debra Chasnoff, executive director of GroundSpark (formerly Women's Educational Media), was among the guests invited to witness the historic moment. As the couple took their vows, Chasnoff said it was "momentous," to stand shoulder to shoulder with gay icons such as Roberta Achtenberg, Donna Hitchens, Nancy Davis, Margie Adam, and Mark Leno.

Chasnoff had witnessed the couple's first ceremony in 2004. "The first one felt more emotional. It was such an act of courage of Mayor Newsom," she said. "This time I felt more confident that it won't be taken away. This time it really felt like history was being made."

Outside the mayor's office, the mood was both celebratory and anxious as throngs of media and well-wishers stood crammed in the rotunda, waiting for San Francisco's first gay couple to come out. Sophie, 14, and her 10-year-old sister Naomi were among the supporters. "We're just so excited to be here," said Sophie, who was there with her father and two friends. Though her parents aren't gay, she said, she and her sister just "wanted to support what was going on."

Moments later the crowd cheered as Lyon emerged from the office pushing Martin in her wheelchair. "When we first got together, we weren't thinking about getting married," Lyon joked before thanking Newsom, who had presided over the ceremony.

"Marriage as an institution has been strengthened today," Newsom said, as well-wishers showered red and white rose petals on Martin and Lyon. "This is the first day we are providing marriage -- fully and fairly -- to everyone."

Lyon and Martin cut the first piece of cake, designed by San Francisco pastry chef Elizabeth Falkner, before handing over the knife to Kate Kendell of the National Center for Lesbian Rights. "Everyone understands history has been made -- history of the most profound kind," said Kendell. "A vision of inclusion and equality has been realized."

Nearly 400 miles south in Beverly Hills, Robin Tyler and Diane Olson made similar history on the steps of the court house when, at 5:01, the couple became the first same-sex couple to say "I do" in Los Angeles County.

Tyler literally said "I do," while her partner of 15 years ad-libbed, "Absolutely! I adore her." And with that, the betrothed couple's family, friends, and supporters whooped, hollered, and applauded.

"I knew our day would come," Olson said, following the ceremony officiated by Rabbi Denise Eger of West Hollywood's Kol Ami Synagogue. "I am a married woman."

Tyler, 66, and Olson, 54, returned to the Beverly Hills Courthouse, which Tyler has called "ground zero in the fight for same-sex marriage" and where the couple has unsuccessfully tried to obtain a marriage license every Valentine's Day for the past eight years.

When acting Los Angeles County registrar-recorder and county clerk Dean Logan announced Thursday that he would issue an early marriage license to Tyler and Olson, the couple dove right in to planning their nuptials.

"We're getting kind of giddy," Tyler said Saturday, as she and Olson juggled wedding plans and questions from the media. "We don't need the trappings. We need the legal rights," continued Tyler about her historic wedding. "We have a great relationship but, need marriage or not, we want it. We're making these typical wedding decisions and we're having fun."

Tyler and Olson were plaintiffs on one of the lawsuits that led to the recent overturn in favor gay marriage. Their lawyer, same-sex marriage advocate Gloria Allred, held Tyler's and Olson's rings for them beside the huppah, propped up by the couple's close friends and members of the LGBT community.

"It's a pleasure to be a part of the wedding," said Allred. "We fought for four years to win, and it's an honor and a privilege to give them the rings."

Gloria Allred, left, with newlyweds Tyler and Olson

On the steps of the courthouse, flanked by loved ones, the media, and a handful of naysayers -- whose protests drowned under a sea of enthusiastic support from the crowd -- Tyler and Olson, dressed in complimentary cream-colored outfits, held one another closely throughout the ceremony.

"I'm elated and thrilled for Robin and Diane," Rabbi Eger said following the nuptials. "You could feel the history, and I could feel the justice today."

A longtime activist for gay rights and same-sex marriage, it's fitting that Tyler, who has been on the front lines of the battle for gay marriage since the 1970s, paved the way to marriage equality on Monday with Olson.

For Olson, the wedding wasn't an end to a long battle for marriage equality but the beginning of something even more powerful. "I think this town -- the state -- is going to light up," she said. "You can't fight love." (Sue Rochman in San Francisco and Tracy Gilchrist in Los Angeles, The Advocate)

30 Years of Out100Out / Advocate Magazine - Jonathan Groff & Wayne Brady

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