Lambda Legal Mourns the Loss of Civil Rights Giant Del Martin

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"Del Martin led the way for all of us who came later."
August 27, 2008

(San Francisco, August 27, 2008) — Civil rights leader Del Martin, who made international headlines in June when she and her partner became the first same-sex couple to legally marry in California, died today in San Francisco. She was 87. Martin's spouse and partner of more than 50 years, Phyllis Lyon, was at her side.

"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. Everything we've accomplished – marriage rights, anti-discrimination protections in the workplace, even the ability to visit our partners in the hospital – owes a vast debt to her work and example. Her quiet, bold courage and steadfast purpose have inspired us for half a century, and will continue to inspire us for many generations more. Our thoughts are with Phyllis and their loved ones."

On June 16, 2008, the two became the first same-sex couple to marry in California as San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom presided over the ceremony. Martin and Lyon were used to being pioneers: in 1955, they helped found the nation's first lesbian organization, the Daughters of Bilitis (DOB. Martin and Lyon were also active in the National Organization of Women (NOW), and Martin was the first open lesbian to be elected to NOW's board. Besides working tirelessly for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) equality, the two have been strong advocates against domestic violence, for access to affordable healthcare, and for the elderly. In 2004, after their first marriage was voided by the California Supreme Court, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, Lambda Legal, and the American Civil Liberties Union represented them as plaintiffs in the California marriage lawsuit that succeeded this May.


Contact: Jason Howe, Office: 213-382-7600 ext.247; Email:



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