CA’s First Married Same-Sex Couple: Del Martin’s Inspiring Essay from 1956
June 17th, 2008
The first same-sex couple to be married in San Francisco were Del Martin (left, 87) and Phyllis Lyon (right, 83). They have been together since 1952. As I said earlier, Del and Phyllis were the perfect choice for this historic first.
In 1955, Del and Phylis, along with six other women, founded the Daughters of Bilitis, the first major lesbian organization in the United States. Del was the group’s president, and Phyllis edited the DOB’s newsletter The Ladder beginning the following year.
I’ve been able to obtain a facsimile copy of the very first edition of The Ladder, from October, 1956. This mimeographed newsletter includes an essay by Del Martin in which she explains why they founded the Daughters of Bilitis. It was a very prescient essay, and it provides us with a great perspective on the historic changes that these two women helped to create. Today, we all are privileged to enjoy many of the fruits from Del and Phyllis’ hard work.
MESSAGE FROM THE PRESIDENT
Since 1950 there has been a nationwide movement to bring understanding to and about the homosexual minority.
Most of the organizations dedicated to this purpose stem from the Mattachine Foundation which was founded in Los Angeles at that time. Members of those organizations — the Mattachine Society, One, and National Association for Sexual Research — are predominantly male, although there are a few hard working women among their ranks.
The Daughters of Bilitis is a women’s organization resolved to add the feminine voice and viewpoint to a mutual problem. While women may not have as much difficulty with law enforcement, their problems are none the less real — family, sometimes children, employment, social acceptance.
However, the lesbian is a very elusive creature. She burrows underground in her fear of identification. She is cautious in her associations. Current modes in hair style and casual attire have enabled her to camouflage her existence. She claims she does not need help. And she will not risk her tight little fist of security to aid those who do.
But surely the ground work has been well laid in the past 5½ years. Homosexuality is not the dirty word it used to be. More and more people, professional and lay, are becoming aware of its meaning and implications. There is no longer so much “risk” in becoming associated with [text missing].
And why not “belong”? Many heterosexuals do. Membership is open to anyone who is interested in the minority problems of the sexual variant and does not necessarily indicate one’s own sex preference.
Women have taken a beating through the centuries. It has been only in this 20th, through the courageous crusade of the Suffragettes and the influx of women into the business world, that woman has become an independent entity, an individual with the right to vote and the right to a job and economic security. But it took women with foresight and determination to attain this heritage which is now ours.
And what will be the lot of the future lesbian? Fear? Scorn? This need not be — IF lethargy is supplanted by an energized constructive program, if cowardice gives way to the solidarity of a cooperative front, if the “let Georgia do it” attitude is replaced by the realization of individual responsibility in thwarting the evils of ignorance, superstition, prejudice and bigotry.
Nothing was ever accomplished by hiding in a dark corner. Why not discard the hermitage for the heritage that awaits any red-blooded American woman who dares to claim it?
Del Martin, President
Daughters of Bilitis