Historians hope to preserve activists’ home


Del Martin (L) and Phyllis Lyon (R). (Marcio Jose Sanchez/AFP via Getty Images)

The home of Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin, a late lesbian couple who sought to defy federal and state marriage equality bans in 2004 by getting married, could be preserved as a city landmark.

Lyon and Martin were the first in California to receive a marriage licence when then-mayor Gavin Newsom openly challenged a state ban, directing city county clerks to issue licences to same-sex couples.

Later they were among the first same-sex couples to officially marry in 2008, following a legal battle they helped fight.

After both women sadly passed, their daughter Kendra Mon, friends of the couple and historic preservationists are fighting to have their home declared a historic site, Bay Area Reporter stated.

The Board of Supervisors unanimously voted in support of starting the process at a meeting on Tuesday (October 20). The city’s historic preservation commission will have 90 days to sign the decision off before a final vote.

Local officials vowed to landmark 651 Duncan Street, in the city’s Noe Valley neighbourhood, describing it as a “uniquely important site”.

Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin at their San Francisco home in 1972. (Clem Albers/San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images)
Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin at their San Francisco home in 1972. (Clem Albers/San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images)

After the couple purchased their home in 1955, it became a rallying point for local lesbian activist. House speaker Nancy Pelosi once visited, address a meeting from a staircase.

Shepherding the campaign is gay District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman. “I do think this is clearly a home of historic value and needs to have that recognised and honoured over time,” he said.

“Whatever we can do to help with that effort, we are happy to do.”

Panel chair and District 3 supervisor Aaron Peski added: “If there is a deserving landmark, this is certainly it.”

If approved, the residence would become the first LGBT+ historic site in a solely residential area.

Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin: Lesbian activists and marriage equality trailblazers. 

Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin first met in 1949, while both working at a construction trade journal in Chico, California. They moved in together in San Fransisco on Valentine’s Day, 1953.

By 1955, they and three other lesbian couples founded one of the first lesbian political groups in the US, the Daughters of Bilitis, inspired by a collection of lesbian love poems by Pierre Louÿs.

They would go on to pen newsletters, magazines and books — many the first of their kind — and helped push pro-LGBT+ bills through their local activist work.

When Gavin Newsom protested against the ban on same-sex marriage by issuing licenses to same-sex couples, it gave Lyon and Martin a moment to cement their five-decades-long relationship.

The California Supreme Court invalidated their marriage a month later, but they once again became the first to marry when it was legalised by the courts in 2008. They were among the original plaintiffs in a series of lawsuits that led to the verdict.

Martin died at 87 in 2008, only weeks after they officially married. Lyon passed away aged 95 earlier this year.


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