In Memoriam: Del Martin

Marriage Equality USA (MEUSA) mourns the passing of civil rights hero, Del Martin. Phyllis Lyon, Del’s wife, was by her side when she died.

“Del and Phyllis reflect everything that marriage represents – lifelong commitment and everlasting love,” said Molly McKay, MEUSA Media Director. “Our hearts go out to Phyllis in this difficult time. And in Del’s memory, we will redouble our efforts to fight for the freedom to marry so that all couples, like Phyllis and Del, get the same dignity and respect that only marriage can provide.”

More about Martin and her wife Phyllis Lyon, from the National Center for Lesbian Rights:

Martin began working as an activist after receiving her degree in journalism from the University of California at Berkeley. While working on a newspaper in Seattle, Martin met her partner Phyllis Lyon and the two began working on behalf of lesbians in their community. Martin and Lyon have devoted their lives to working towards LGBT equality, healthcare access, advocacy on behalf of battered women, and issues facing elderly Americans. Their many contributions over the past five decades helped shape the modern LGBT movement.

In 1955, Lyon and Martin were among the founders of the Daughters of Bilitis, the first lesbian rights organization. In 1956, they launched “The Ladder,” the first lesbian newsletter, which became a lifeline for hundreds of women isolated and silenced by the restrictions of the era. Del Martin was the first openly lesbian woman elected to the board of the National Organization of Women (NOW), and in 1971, encouraged the board to pass a resolution stating that lesbian issues were feminist issues. In 1995, Martin and Lyon were named delegates to the White House Conference on Aging by Senator Dianne Feinstein and Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi. In 2004, Lyon and Martin became the first same-sex couple to be married in the state of California, and subsequently became plaintiffs in the California marriage case, helping to ensure that the fundamental right to marry under the California Constitution belongs to all couples, including same-sex couples.

“Del lived her life with great compassion, wit, tenacity, generosity, and valor,” said The Honorable Donna Hitchens, Founder of the National Center for Lesbian Rights. “She inspired thousands of us to be more courageous and energetic than we thought possible. When faced with moments of fatigue, laziness or weakness, one had only to ask – ‘What would Del and Phyllis do?’ While she will be greatly missed, her legacy will be cherished forever.”

Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon were married in California on June 16, 2008 after 55 years together.

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