Monday, June 16, 2008
In May, the California Supreme Court ruled that state marriage laws which discriminate against gay and lesbian couples are unconstitutional. Chief Justice Ronald George wrote that the state constitution’s guarantees of personal privacy and autonomy protect "the right of an individual to establish a legally recognized family with the person of one's choice” and “properly must be interpreted to guarantee this basic civil right to all Californians, whether gay or heterosexual, and same-sex couples as well as opposite-sex couples.”
The ruling opens the doors to same-sex marriages throughout the state of California. San Francisco anticipates couples from all over the world coming here to have their ceremonies in the historic location where the fight for equal rights began: City Hall.
Tomorrow, marriage licenses will be issued to same-sex couples. However, one special couple will be married at 5 p.m. today.
Del Martin, 87, and Phyllis Lyon, 83, who have been together for more than 50 years, were the first same-sex couple of thousands married in 2004, the Winter of Love. All the marriages performed at that time were later ruled invalid.
Gavin Newsom, Mayor of San Francisco and a dedicated advocate of equal marriage rights, will perform today's ceremony.
"What we want, the narrative coming out of it, is about them and what they represent - their story, their history. This is really where it all started," Newsom said of the couple.
Ms. Lyon said it was "heartwarming" that the city wants her and Ms. Martin to be the first couple to marry, but that they are just a small part of what will happen as same-sex marriage begins in California. "Hundreds of thousands of couples will be getting married this time, and that's the important thing," she said. "It's something that has been due for a long time, and thank God, it's here."
The couple met in 1950 and moved into a Castro Street apartment together on Valentine's Day 1953. Two years later, they and three other lesbian couples founded the Daughters of Bilitis, which historians call the first lesbian organization in the United States. They also published The Ladder, a monthly magazine which was influential in the LGBT rights movement. Both women were inducted into the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association Hall of Fame.
A San Francisco medical organization founded in 1979 as a clinic for lesbians, Lyon Martin Health Services, bears their names.
Lyon said she and Martin "hoped we would see this day" of equal recognition of marriages for same-sex couples. "It means a great deal that we can get (a license) like anyone else."
Mayor Newsom said the couple provided him with much of the inspiration to order the county clerk to issue licenses to same-sex couples in 2004. "This is why I did it four years ago. It's personal as much as anything else."
They were married Feb. 12, 2004, and more than 4,000 same-sex couples flocked to San Francisco to marry before a court order ended the ceremonies on March 11 of that year.
The San Francisco City Attorney and several civil rights organizations filed a lawsuit against the state that won marriage rights for same-sex couples.
Kate Kendell, executive director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, credited Lyon and Martin's lifetimes of activism with bringing the LGBT rights movement to this point. "At a time when being openly gay cost you everything you cared about, they were. And they took risks and spoke out from the 1950s on in a way that I certainly do not believe I would have nor would most of us."
She said the couple being the first to marry "is the absolute least we can do to acknowledge how critical their legacy is to the lives of all of us."
So I asked Flip, "Would you marry me if I were a guy?"
This made me a little sad. I know that we're straight, but I have believed for a long time that love is not necessarily a matter of anatomy, and that we fall in love with a person's soul which makes everything else, including gender, secondary.
Still, it's a wonderful thing to be loved and accepted, and acknowledged by the world as a committed couple. Considering that I have never personally had to fight for that right, I am perhaps unreasonably happy that it is now available to everyone. I wonder if there's a word for reverse schadenfreude, rejoicing at another's well-deserved good fortune. If not, there really should be.