Del Martin: 1921 - 2008
It is with real sadness that I report the death of Del Martin. In 1921 Del was born Dorothy Taliaferro but was always known as Del. At the age of 19 she married James Martin but that marriage ended in a divorce. In those days women married and Del did what was expected, but she was a lesbian.
It was in 1950 that she met Phyllis Martin and by 1952 the two were in love. It was Valentine’s Day 1953 when they officially moved in together. And in 1955 she and Lyons helped found the Daughters a Bilitis, a group that helped lesbians and fought for the rights of homosexuals. At a time when state oppression of gays was extensive Martin wrote: “Nothing was ever accomplished by hiding in a dark corner. Why not discard the hermitage for the heritage that awaits any red-blooded American woman who dares to claim it?”
Together they fought for marriage equality. The couple were plaintiffs in the legal case which brought about the state Supreme Court’s ruling on marriage equality. It was a battle that became all the more important to them as they knew their time together was limited. As Del said: “We’re not getting any younger.” Lyons and Martin were officially and legally wed on June 16, just minutes after the court ruling took effect.
After 55 years of a loving, committed relationship with one another the couple were fighting their last battle together.
At this time it must be particularly hard for Phyllis to have lost her partner of more than half-a-century. In a short statement she released to the public she said: “I am devastated, but I take some solace in knowing we were able to enjoy the ultimate rite of love and commitment before she passed.”
It astounds me that for 55 years these two individuals, so clearly committed to one another, were considered by the law to be nothing more than friends. For so long, and through so much, they were second class citizens when it came to their relationship. Yet, the most fleeting heterosexual liaison could be sanctified in a drunken moment in Vegas with no forethought and no true commitment. And there are some who dare say that these two women, bound by mutual love for so long, were trivializing marriage. If what Del Martin and Phyllis Lyons had was trivial then I say there are a hell of a lot of marriages that could use some trivializing of that sort.
I am pleased that Del spent the last ten weeks of her life as the legal spouse of the woman she had loved for most of her life. And I firmly believe that this November the voters of California will NOT vote to overturn marriage equality. But even if they do, it will be too late to take that away from Del Martin.
Martin is survived by her spouse, Phyllis Lyons, a daughter and two grandchildren.