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social sciences

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Lyon, Phyllis, (b. 1924) and Del Martin (1921-2008)  
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Writing and Other Activities

In 1972, Lyon and Martin published their most significant book, Lesbian/Woman, which remains a crucial account of American lesbian life in the twentieth century, ranging in its concerns from questions of sexuality to questions of psychological health. For the 1991, twentieth-anniversary edition, Lyon and Martin added an update that gives a sense of the growth of lesbian influence in American life during the twentieth century.

Their 1973 book, Lesbian Love and Liberation, defends individual choice and freedom in sexual matters.

Sponsor Message.

Along with writing and speaking about lesbian and gay issues, Martin also became a pioneer in the campaign to publicize and stop domestic violence. In 1976, she published one of the earliest books on the subject, Battered Wives, which blamed battering on the inequalities in the institution of marriage and a pervasive cultural misogyny.

Lyon, who in 1976 earned a doctorate in education, with a specialty in human sexuality, at the University of California, Berkeley, became director of the National Sex Forum and a nationally known expert on sexuality.

In 1979, Lyon-Martin Health Services, an affordable women's health clinic, named in honor of the two women, opened in San Francisco.

In the years since the gay and lesbian movement began, Lyon and Martin became significant figures both as educators and as politically-savvy advocates. In 1995, they helped form Old Lesbians Organizing for Change, and both served as delegates to the 1995 White House Conference on Aging.

In 2002, the year of the couple's fiftieth anniversary, filmmaker Joan E. Biren released a documentary about their lives titled No Secret Anymore: The Times of Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon.

Marriage Equality

On February 12, 2004, Lyon and Martin were married by San Francisco City Assessor Mabel Teng, following Mayor Gavin Newsom's directive to grant marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Following the ceremony, Martin remarked, "Phyllis and I demonstrated our commitment to one another more than half a century ago. Today San Francisco has demonstrated its commitment to us through equality and fairness."

That marriage was soon nullified by the Supreme Court of California, on the grounds that Mayor Newsom lacked the authority to issue marriage licenses. Lyon and Martin then joined in a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the California laws that limited marriage to opposite-sex couples. After a victory at the district court level and a loss at the apellate level, the lawsuit was finally considered by the Supreme Court of California.

In a historic 4-3 decision authored by Chief Justice Ronald George, on May 15, 2008, the Supreme Court of California ruled in favor of marriage equality, declaring it unconstitutional to deny same-sex couples the freedom to marry.

In a tribute to Lyon and Martin, Mayor Newsom arranged for the couple to receive the first marriage license to be issued to a same-sex couple after the Court's decision became final. He then married them in a private ceremony at City Hall soon after 5:00 p.m. on June 16, 2008, followed by a reception for family, friends, and members of the news media.


The couple's selection to be the first same-sex couple to be married in California as a result of the state Supreme Court's decision was altogether appropriate. As Kate Kendell, executive director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, remarked, Lyon and Martin have played a pivotal role in the struggle for glbtq equality.

"At a time when being openly gay cost you everything you cared about, they were [openly gay]. 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."

Allowing the couple to be the first to marry, Kendell said, "is the absolute least we can do to acknowledge how critical their legacy is to the lives of all of us."

Martin and Lyon occupy a particularly important position as founding mothers of the modern glbtq movement, having participated in the movement's evolution from the timid first steps of the homophile organizations to the heady days of the gay and lesbian liberation to the achievement of more mainstream political clout.

Sadly, only three months following her wedding, Del Martin died on August 27, 2008 in San Francisco. She was survived by Lyon, a daughter, a granddaughter, and a grandson, as well as by legions of admirers.

Tina Gianoulis

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Buchanan, Wyatt. "S.F. Same-sex Couple Ready to Be First Again." San Francisco Chronicle (June 10, 2008):

Dorrance, John. "Gay Panther." San Francisco 26 (December, 1984): 32-34.

Jurgens, Jane. "Martin, Del." Gay & Lesbian Literature. Sharon Malinowski, ed. Detroit: St. James Press, 1994. 249-51.

Lyon, Phyllis, and Del Martin. Lesbian/Woman. San Francisco: Glide Publications, 1972; rev. ed. New York: Bantam, 1973; updated ed. Volcano, Calif.: Volcano Press, 1991.

_____. Lesbian Love and Liberation. San Francisco: Multi Media Resource Center, 1973.

"World Film Premiere Celebrates Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon: 50th Anniversary of Lesbian Civil Rights Movement Founders."


    Citation Information
    Author: Gianoulis, Tina  
    Entry Title: Lyon, Phyllis, and Del Martin  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2004  
    Date Last Updated September 12, 2008  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2004, glbtq, inc.  


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