Lesbian and Gay Couples in San Francisco Are Granted Marriage Licenses

February 12, 2004 12:00 am

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Historic, first-in-the-nation move is heralded as major breakthrough for fairness and equality


SAN FRANCISCO–The City and County of San Francisco today became the first government in the United States to grant marriage licenses to same-sex couples. City officials followed a directive set in motion by Mayor Gavin Newsom. Advocates heralded the move as the most significant moment in the fight for equal marriage rights for same-sex couples.

“”For many Americans, their wedding day is one of the happiest days of their life,”” said Geoffrey Kors, executive director for Equality California, the state’s leading gay rights advocacy group. “”For these San Francisco couples, it is no different with one exception. Yesterday, they couldn’t get married. Today, they can. To suggest that these couples are experiencing a profound sense of happiness is an understatement.””

Dorothy Ehrlich, executive director of the ACLU of Northern California, added: “Just as we told the state in 1974 when they passed a statute limiting marriage to a man and a woman, that kind of discrimination against same-sex couples violates the California constitution’s promise of equality. Discrimination in marriage was wrong then and it’s wrong now.”

Lesbian and gay couples began gathering late this morning at the County Clerk’s office following an announcement by the mayor’s office indicating that they would begin issuing licenses. In total, four couples were granted marriage licenses.

Among the first to be married were Del Martin, 83, and Phyllis Lyon, 80, who have been together for more than 50 years. Martin and Lyon met in Seattle in 1950 and began dating in 1952. They moved to San Francisco in 1953. The two women founded the Daughters of Bilitis, the first national lesbian rights organization.

“”Phyllis and I demonstrated our commitment to one another more than half a century ago,”” said Martin. “”Today, San Francisco has demonstrated its commitment to us through equality and fairness.””

Also receiving marriage licenses were Sarah Conner, 35, and Gillian Smith, 34, of the Bay Area. Conner, born in Minneapolis, moved to California in 1992 to pursue graduate studies at the Graduate Theological Union and is now the Manager of Stewardship and Information at California Pacific Medical Center Foundation. Smith, born in Brooklyn, NY, moved to the Bay Area in 1991 and is currently the Finance and Administration Associate at the Women’s Funding Network, a San Francisco non-profit.

“”Before we met, neither of us believed in love at first sight,”” Sarah Conner. “”However, when we locked eyes for the first time, we were proven wrong. Our first four years together have flown by, and have been filled with what already seems like a lifetime of challenges, personal achievements, romance, fun, laughter, joy, and love. In each other we have found the perfect spouse.””

“This is an unforgettable day,” said National Center for Lesbian Rights Executive Director Kate Kendell. “For the first time in this country, lesbian and gay couples in loving, committed relationships were able to exercise the same right to protect their families that others take for granted.”

On the same day, State Assembly member Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) introduced the Marriage License Non-Discrimination Act (MLNDA), sponsored by Equality California. The bill would end discrimination in the issuance of marriage licenses statewide, allowing same-sex couples to obtain marriage licenses anywhere in California.

There are 8,902 same-sex couples living in the same household in San Francisco according to the 2000 U.S. Census.

Newsom told the San Francisco Chronicle on Tuesday, “”A little more than a month ago, I took the oath of office here at City Hall and swore to uphold California’s Constitution, which clearly outlaws all forms of discrimination. Denying basic rights to members of our community will not be tolerated.””

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