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Community leaders, political figures honor marriage rights pioneer Del Martin

by Nick Langewis

"Michelle and I were deeply saddened to hear that Del Martin had passed," said Senator Barack Obama, Democratic presidential nominee, on Wednesday. "Del committed her life to fighting discrimination and promoting equality. Our thoughts and prayers go out to her spouse Phyllis Lyon, and all those who were touched by her life."

Community leaders, organizations and activists have spoken out in celebration of the life of Del Martin. Martin (pictured, right), with wife Phyllis Lyon, co-founded the first lesbian social and political organization, Daughters of Bilitis, in 1955. Martin and Lyon were also the first lesbian couple to join the National Organization for Women. Martin and Lyon were among the first to receive a marriage license in San Francisco in February of 2004, and the first to marry this year after California's Supreme Court affirmed their right to marry under their state's constitution.

"For over half a century," said San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom in addition to his Wednesday statement in Denver, "Del Martin, along with her loving spouse, Phyllis Lyon, served as an activist for women's rights and the LGBT community. The marriage of Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon on June 16, 2008, marked an historic milestone on our country's road to true freedom and equality. Del laid the groundwork for all those who want a life of dignity, and we are forever in her debt. The greatest way we can honor the life work of Del Martin, is to continue to fight and never give up, until we have achieved equality for all."

Mayor Newsom also ordered the flags at San Francisco's City Hall, along with the LGBT Pride Flags on Market and Castro Streets in his city, to be flown at half mass to honor Martin.

"Del Martin holds a place of honor in the pantheon of American civil rights leaders," said Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin, the nation's first openly gay non-incumbent to take a seat in Congress. "She was a hero and a role model to me and countless other LGBT women and men who seek nothing more and nothing less than full equality. I offer my deep sympathies to her beloved wife, Phyllis, and pledge to carry on the work that they began."

"It's impossible to overstate Del's importance in the struggle for LGBT rights and dignity," said Lambda Legal Senior Counsel Jennifer C. Pizer. When she and Phyllis started Daughters of Bilitis, they were nearly alone in Joe McCarthy’s America. Del Martin led the way for all of us who came later."

"She inspired not just her own community," added Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund president and CEO Chuck Wolfe, "but millions of straight people who saw how long she was willing to wait to legally marry her wife...Del will be remembered by future generations as a leader and a hero, and she will be greatly missed." Added GLAAD President Neil G. Giuliano, "We have lost a pioneer, but one whose legacy will continue to be deeply felt by our community, our movement and all who care about social justice."


Originally published on Thursday August 28, 2008.

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