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Nov. 10, 1924 – April 9, 2020
Phyllis Lyon, who along with her late wife Del Martin, became the first to wed in San Francisco in 2004 when then-Mayor Gavin Newsom instructed the city clerk to begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, has died of natural causes. She was 95.
Lyon was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and later to moved to California where she earned a degree in journalism from the University of California, Berkeley in 1946. Early jobs including reporting for the Chico Enterprise-Record. She lived for a time in Seattle, where she wrote for multiple publications, and it was there, in 1950, that she met Dorothy Louise Taliaferro Martin, known to her friends as Del.
The two reportedly became involved romantically in 1952 and started living together in a Castro Street apartment in San Francisco on Valentine’s Day 1953. Two years later, in 1955, they co-founded the Daughters of Bilitis, the first social and political organization for lesbians in the U.S., which took its name from a collection of lesbian love poems named Songs of Bilitis.
Lyon and Martin served as co-presidents of the DOB and co-edited its publication, The Ladder, for many years. The two would go on to become one of the first lesbian couples to join the National Organization for Women. Later, the couple created the Council on Religion and the Homosexual, a group that worked to convince ministers to accept LGBTQ people into their churches. They also worked to have anti-gay laws across the state struck down.
In the ’70s, Lyon and Martin stopped publishing The Ladder and went on to co-write two books, including “Lesbian/Woman,” which won a Stonewall Book Award in 1972, and the following year’s “Lesbian Love and Liberation: The Yes Book of Sex.” Also in the ’70s, Lyon and Martin became members of the Alice B. Toklas Democratic Club, which was San Francisco’s first LGBTQ political organization. The group would go on to convince then-Mayor Dianne Feinstein to push forth a bill to ban employment discrimination against gays and lesbians in the city.
“Phyllis Lyon fought for LGBT equality when it was neither safe nor popular to do so,” said California State Sen. Scott Weiner, who is chairman of the LGBTQ caucus, in a tweet. “Phyllis and her wife Del played a crucial role winning the rights and dignity our community now enjoys. We owe Phyllis intense gratitude and love for her work.”
Lyon and Martin continued to remain active throughout the years. On Feb. 12, 2004, Lyon and Martin became the first same-sex couple to legally marry in San Francisco. That marriage was voided a mere six months later by the California Supreme Court. Four years later, that same court finally legalized same-sex marriage and Lyon and Martin would once again marry on June 16, 2008.
“Phyllis, it was the honor of a lifetime to marry you and Del,” Newsom tweeted. “Your courage changed the course of history.”
Martin died just two months after they married for the second time. Today, Lyon is survived by her sister, Patricia Lyon, and a daughter, Kendra Mon, two grandchildren and a great-granddaughter.