Lesbian Activists the First to Wed
San Francisco City Hall was flooded with gay and lesbian couples ready to tie the knot on Monday, exactly 30 days after the ban on same-sex marriages was lifted.
Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin were the first Californian same-sex couple to be married in 2004, 51 years after their relationship began. Their marriage was revoked soon afterwards, and it was uncertain if they’d ever be granted a chance to officially tie the knot. For a heterosexual couple, this would surely be an unfathomable ordeal. For Lyon and Martin, long-time lesbian activists, it was par for the course. They endured another four years before marriage equality was finally legalized in California. Lyon and Martin once again took the debut role, getting hitched at 5:01 p.m., on Monday evening.
Lyon, who spoke to Curve on Friday, said that she sees her marriage as a big victory and is very excited about it. Asked what she and Martin will do if a majority votes against marriage equality in November, possibly overturning the California Supreme Courts ruling, Lyon said she isnt worried.
We beat them, she said. There’s [been] a change [and] the polls sound good. There’ll be a big campaign statewide that’s all we can do. She added, My understanding is that its not clear what the courts will do if this thing passes. Martin, who had been listening on the other line, chimed in, That’s a long time away.
After spending their lives fighting for gay rights, Lyon and Martin haven’t lost one spark of their fire and are clearly as determined as ever. When asked what she has to say to marriage equality opponents, Lyon laughed and jokingly said, “I’m not sure if you could print it.” She continued, more seriously, “It would depend on why they did it—if they were really religious, or if they really believed that gay marriage would cause havoc with their own marriages, or if they really hated gay people. [Religious opponents] are quoting the Bible, which doesn’t say anything about marriage being between a man and a woman just about marriage.”
Martin and Lyon are genuine lesbian pioneers the Lewis and Clark of the entire lesbian rights movement. Back in 1955, they were among the founding mothers of the first lesbian rights organization: The Daughters of Bilitis. They went on to launch the first lesbian newsletter, The Ladder, one year later. Their hard work paved the way for marriage equality and for publications like our very own Curve.
Clara Brock and Arlene Rusche, friends of Martin and Lyon and former Daughters members, attended the Monday wedding. Curve spoke to Rusche before the event, where she sat in San Francisco City Hall surrounded by supporters.
We didn’t think it would happen in our lifetime, she said. But here you go! Acceptance is slow, but its actually happening. When asked about the November ballot, she replied, Its going to be close. Were going to have to work hard to make it happen. On a personal note, concerning when she might wed Brock, she said thoughtfully, “We’re still thinking [about whether] its something that’s good for us. There are ramifications that we may not understand at this point. Maybe not this month, but maybe another.”
Moments before the wedding took place, press and supporters gathered at the City Hall Rotunda, watching as a white cream fresh mousse wedding cake was decorated with edible spring flowers and fruit. The decorator was celebrated lesbian chef Elizabeth Falkner of Citizen Cake, where Martin and Lyon went on to hold a quiet reception for family and friends immediately following their wedding. A black-and-white photograph of the happy couples young faces was placed on top of the cake. Crowds ringed the two balconies overlooking the scene, smiling down and snapping photographs.
The wedding itself took about 10 minutes, after which Martin and Lyon walked out to applause, joyful cheers and a shower of rose-petals. They cut the cake together as the crowd continued to go wild. After emotional speeches by Lyon and a family member of the couple, statements were given by a beaming Mayor Gavin Newsom, National Center for Lesbian Rights Executive Director Kate Kendell and openly gay California assemblyman Mark Leno. It was an electric moment of pure excitement and happiness.
Outside City Hall, however, a group of protesters had gathered. Their placards bore Biblical quotes and messages such as: God Hates Fag Enablers and Homo Sex Is Sin! We Don’t Hate Homos, God Hates Sin! One man drove back and forth in a van covered with anti-LGBT slogans and images.
God did not create men to marry each other, said Alawdi Mohammed, one of the few protesters who arrived well before the event. Maybe now life in this country will be in danger. Maybe God will send a flood. How can we produce children? To produce children, women marry men: That is the right thing to do.
John Malaspina and his wife Julie held signs reading: Love and Equality YES / Same-sex marriage NO. He told CURVE that marriage should be between man, woman and their God. When asked what he thought would happen to the institution of marriage if equality was granted in November, he said, “Marriage will take a hit but it will come back. It was ordained by God and it comes from the Garden of Eden.”
Mike came to support SaveBiblicalMarriage.org. He and a friend were holding what was possibly the largest placard present: a huge yellow sign with the words Re-Criminalize Sodomy! printed in bold black letters. Biblically its wrong, medically its wrong and historically its wrong, he said. He believes that if marriage equality is legalized, God will judge [the United States], just like Sodom and Gomorrah.
There seemed to be just as many supporters as protesters. Some came to City Hall with a sense of humor. “I think gay men should be allowed to get married, but lesbians shouldn’t. It should be against the law,” a grinning man called Terry announced to CURVE. His friend Bill took a more serious approach. “It’s about time California woke up and realized that the gay community should have the same rights. I’m 61 and I’ve been out for 40 years. I’m getting married to my partner of three years in July.”
Another supporter with a sense of humor was Manuella Hancock, who brought a placard reading: Eating Lobster is an Abomination Too, complete with a Biblical reference. “I just figure since were quoting the Bible, we have to be absolutely clear,” she said.
Supporters waved signs with slogans such as: Celebrate Gay Marriage! Christian Fascists Go Back to Patriarchal Cave! Stop Using Jesus to Promote Hatred and Gavin, Will You Marry Me? Their voices were joined by musical performers, including the San Francisco Lesbian/Gay Freedom Band and a smaller group with a clarinet, flutes and drums. Rainbow costumes and wigs stood out in the crowd, and a large rectangular wedding cake was handed out in squares.
Allies of the LGBT community attended, a few showing support with placards. A woman carrying an, Its About Love, Its About Time/Married Heteros Support You sign said, “Heterosexual people should come out and support gay marriage. The media says its an abomination, but it isn’t.” Another straight supporter, third-generation San Franciscan Stephen Worsley, said, “If these tax-paying people who love each other want to get married, they should. Were tolerant here of all kinds of things.”
Jerry Maynard and Patrick Barresi shared a passionate smooch in front of a Homo Sex Is a Threat to National Security placard. They were married on a March morning in 2004, only to have their license revoked that afternoon. They plan to take this opportunity to remarry. Barresi compared the more extreme protesters to clansmen at a civil rights event, but overall the couple’s outlook was positive on the 2008 marriages: It feels like a circle has been completed.
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