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CA’s First Married Same-Sex Couple: Del Martin’s Inspiring Essay from 1956

Jim Burroway

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.

Del Martin and Phyllis Lyons, 1954In 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.

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

Del Martin and Phyllis Lyons



Jason D
June 18th, 2008 | LINK

I get the T-Shirt Hell Newsletter, they had a hilarious bit about Gay Marriage today. Very Funny. I tried to find the cleanest quote:

“Getting back to gay marriage, it’s not that I particularly want gay people to be allowed to get married. It’s that I don’t care one way or the other. If you get involved in one aspect of someone’s life that doesn’t affect you, where do you draw the line? “I hate when my neighbor eats split pea soup. I’m gonna have to talk to him about that. And I absolutely will not tolerate it when someone has a mailbox shaped like a tractor. I’ve got a lot of phone calls to make.””

Full Newsleter

June 18th, 2008 | LINK

I find this interesting for 1956: Homosexuality is not the dirty word it used to be. I could hear someone saying that today and imagine someone saying that in another fifty years.

June 19th, 2008 | LINK

Thanks in part to the work done and risks taken by Del and Phyllis, my life is improved. When I divorced and later found the woman of my dreams, I did not have to face the horror of losing my four daughters because of my sexuality. That amazed me, because I live in a conservative area of Pennsylvania!

I felt the gratitude then, and many times since.

Congratulations to this brave, married couple! And thank you both!

June 20th, 2008 | LINK

They are a truly amazing couple. I’m incredibly happy they were able to see the day when they could marry.

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