Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Del Martin Has Died, Finally Legally Married (Updated)

Del Martin Has Died, Finally Legally Married

Del Martin, a lesbian-feminist activist whose life work for liberation on a number of fronts never stopped, died today at the age of 87. Her lifelong partner Phyllis Lyon, whom she married legally at last in California in June 16, 2008, was by her side. Kate Kendell, executive director of the National Center of Lesbian Rights, announced Martin’s death today at a San Francisco hospital following complications from a broken arm which aggravated her previously existing health problems.

Del Martin placing ring on finger of Phyllis Lyon, 16 June 2008, San Francisco City Hall -- Photo by Marcio Jose Sanchez, AP
More than 50 years ago, Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin fell in love with each other. At that time in history, to be a lesbian meant you could be arrested (not for any particular behavior, just for being who you were), fired from your job, evicted, and forced into electroshock treatment. It's astonishing enough they found each other at all. But when you read about their life together ---

Del had been married for four years and had a daughter. After she was divorced, she and Phyllis met in Seattle in 1950 when they began working for the same magazine. According to Wikipedia, "They became lovers in 1952 and entered into a formal partnership in 1953 when they moved to San Francisco together although unable to legally marry. Many years later, Lyon and Martin recalled how they learned to live together in 1953. 'We really only had problems our first year together. Del would leave her shoes in the middle of the room, and I'd throw them out the window,' said Lyon, to which Martin responded, 'You'd have an argument with me and try to storm out the door. I had to teach you to fight back.'"

Wedding cake from June 16, 2008, San Francisco City Hall, showing portrait of Phyllis and Del from the first year of their relationship -- Photo from Getty Images "On February 12, 2004, Martin and Lyon were issued a marriage license by the City and County of San Francisco after mayor Gavin Newsom ordered that marriage licenses be given to same-sex couples who requested them. The license, along with those of several thousand other same-sex couples were voided by the California Supreme Court on August 12 2004."

At that time, Phyllis wrote: "Del is 83 years old and I am 79. After being together for more than 50 years, it is a terrible blow to have the rights and protections of marriage taken away from us. At our age, we do not have the luxury of time."

"In 1955, Martin and Lyon and six other lesbian women formed the Daughters of Bilitis, the first major lesbian organization in the United States. Lyon was the first editor of DOB's newsletter, The Ladder, beginning in 1956. Martin took over editorship of the newsletter from 1960 to 1962, and was then replaced by other editors until the newsletter ended its connection with the Daughters of Bilitis in 1970.

Cover of The Ladder, publication of first lesbian periodical in the U.S. from the Daughters of Bilitis "Within five years of its origin, the Daughters of Bilitis had chapters around the country, including Chicago, New York, New Orleans, San Diego, Los Angeles, Detroit, Denver, Cleveland and Philadelphia. There were 500 subscribers to The Ladder, but far more readers, as copies were circulated among women who were reluctant to put their names to a subscription list.

"Lyon and Martin remained leaders of the DOB until the late 1960s, when they were replaced by women who were perceived as more radical and who had different goals for the organization. The Daughters of Bilitis disbanded not long after Martin and Lyon's leadership ended."

In 1967, Lyon and Martin became active in NOW. "Del Martin was the first openly lesbian woman elected to NOW. Lyon and Martin worked to combat the homophobia they perceived in NOW, and encouraged the National Board of Directors of NOW's 1971 resolution that lesbian issues were feminist issues."

In 1972, the two women helped cofound the Alice B. Toklas Democratic Club, whose purpose is "to support candidates, who are supportive of gay and lesbian rights, get elected to public office...In 1975 the club endorsed George Moscone for mayor over Dianne Feinstein."

Also in 1972, Lyon and Martin published Lesbian/Woman, a book about lesbian life in modern America, which became the definitive work on the subject for years. In 1973, they released Lesbian Love and Liberation, about lesbians and sexual liberty.

Cover of Battered Wives written by Del Martin In 1979, Martin wrote Battered Wives, which blamed American domestic violence on institutionalized misogyny. Also in 1979, "Lyon-Martin Health Services was founded by a group of medical providers and health activists as a clinic for lesbians who lacked access to nonjudgmental, affordable health care. Named after Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin, the clinic soon became a model for culturally sensitive community-based health care. Since 1993, Lyon-Martin also has provided case management and primary healthcare in programs specifically designed for very low-income and uninsured women with HIV . In 2007, the organization added sliding-scale mental health services."

In 1989, Martin and Lyon joined Old Lesbians Organizing for Change. In 1995 Martin and Lyon were named delegates to the White House Conference on Aging by Senator Dianne Feinstein and Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi respectively.

In 2003 filmmaker Joan E. Biren (JEB) released a documentary film on the couple, No Secret Anymore: The Times of Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon, available from Frameline.

Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin at their home in San Francisco on 2 March 2008 -- Photo by Marcio Jose Sanchez, AP Del and Phyllis were everyone's choice as the first couple to be married in San Francisco yesterday after the historic court ruling on May 15 made California the second state to allow same-sex marriages. Mayor Gavin Newsom, who married the couple in 2004, personally presided over this second (hopefully forever legal) marriage.

Our love and grief go out to Phyllis Lyon and all those millions whose lives were given freedom and meaning by the trail-blazing courage and wisdom of Del Martin.

UPDATE: It find it heartening that Del's death is being covered by CNN and the scrawls at the bottoms of our local news broadcasts -- truly a testament to how far she brought us in her life.

At her specific request, she asks that in lieu of flowers, donations be made to the No on 8 compaign to defect the California proposition to ban marriage rights for lesbians and gays. To make a gift, go here.

In related news, Hallmark recently announced that will begin selling congratulations cards specifically designed for same-sex marriages. As you can imagine, the Right is up in arms about this decent and respectful decision, and are flooding them with protests. If you would like to express your support of their stance, as a consumer and a caring American, you can call Hallmark directly and leave a message or contact your local Hallmark store and expression your approval.

To call Hallmark, dial 1- 800-425-5627, dial 4 and then 5 to reach an operator to leave your message.

Or go to Hallmark store locator to find one in your area and call them directly.

(Much of the above biography was first published by Maggie Jochild at her Meta Watershed post Old Dykes Getting Married, the day after their herstoric wedding on June 16, 2008. A full biography of Del Martin is available at her obituary from the National Center for Lesbian Rights.)