SAN FRANCISCO — Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin fell in love at a time when lesbians risked being arrested, fired from their jobs and sent to electroshock treatment. On Monday 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.
"It was 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.
San Francisco 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. Their ceremony 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 Lyon.
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 community.
"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 program.
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