Director’s Statement

One Wedding and a Revolution Press Kit

One Wedding and... a Revolution

Reveals the inspiration, motivation and political challenges at San Francisco City Hall during the frantic days leading up to the first government-sanctioned same-sex marriage.

I had just arrived at my office on Thursday, February 12, 2004, when the phone rang around 9:15. It was my old friend, Joyce Newstat. Joyce and I met in 1987 when we were both working on the state assembly race for Roberta Achtenberg, the first openly gay person to run for state office in California. Now Joyce was the policy director for Gavin Newsom, who had just been elected mayor of San Francisco.

“You’ve got to get down here with a film crew,” she blurted out. “We’re going to be marrying Del and Phyllis in about an hour. There’s a press embargo and no TV crews, but you’ve got to get this on film.”

“What are you talking about Joyce?” I was incredulous.

“The mayor has decided to start issuing marriage licenses to gay couples—today!” she explained.

“He can’t do that, can he?” Joyce told me that Newsom had examined the state constitution and decided that it was illegal for him to discriminate, and that he was convinced that he could indeed do this.

I was amazed. With the presidential race looming, the recent Massachusetts Supreme Court decision regarding gay marriage rights, and the fact that Newsom had only been in office about a month, it seemed to me that there were many strong political reasons why this decision could be political suicide. It just didn’t add up. But those questions would have to wait. Of course I wanted to be there.

I hung up with Joyce and called Sophie Constantinou, a cinematographer I had worked with before and asked her where she was and if she had her camera with her. Half an hour later we were racing through city hall to the back of the Hall of Records to City Assessor Mabel Teng’s office.

The room was brimming with anticipation and exhilaration. Roberta Achtenberg was on hand to be one of the official witnesses, and she and Joyce and I had a moment to marvel at how far we had come since 1987.  And there were Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon, sitting patiently, wearing complementary lavender and sky blue pants suits, waiting to make history, as they had done so many times before.

Finally the paperwork was ready and the ceremony started. And so did the tears. We were crying not just because it was a wedding, but because of the historical and political significance that these particular marriage vows had. None of us could have envisioned this possibility, even a few months earlier. It did feel as if a social revolution had indeed transpired, telescoped within our adult lifetimes.

Weeks later Kate Kendell, the executive director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, approached me about turning this historical footage into a short documentary. Thanks to my connection to Joyce, I was able to film an intimate interview with the Mayor, who once again astounded me (and our entire crew) as he articulated very passionate, humane, even psychological reasons for his decision and his willingness to risk political damage for a courageous civil rights stand.

We decided to concentrate on the back story to that first wedding on February 12th, knowing that the media and other filmmakers were documenting the moving stories of the thousands of couples who followed Del and Phyllis to get married.

I felt incredibly lucky to be among the handful of witnesses that morning.  With “One Wedding and a Revolution” I hope to invite thousands to share in that moving historical moment and to inspire other courageous acts of standing up for justice, even when it’s not politically popular to do so.

About Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon

Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon have been partners in love and political activism for over 50 years. Considered the founders of the lesbian civil rights movement, their legacy as change makers and pioneers prompted city officials and community leaders to honor them as the first same-sex couple married in San Francisco.

In the 1950’s, Del and Phyllis founded the Daughters of Bilitis, the first group of its kind to openly demand equality for lesbians through education and reforming public policy. They published The Ladder, the first newsletter ever written for and distributed to lesbians.

The couple wrote the groundbreaking classic Lesbian/Woman in 1972, a book that was the unofficial lesbian bible through much of the ‘70s and ‘80s, offering support and insight to millions of readers.

For decades they have been on the forefront of many social justice struggles and at 83 and 79, respectively, Del and Phyllis are still active. They are involved with Old Lesbians Organizing for Change, and were appointed by Bill Clinton to the 1995 White House Conference on Aging. They live together in San Francisco.