(San Francisco, CA, June 16, 2009)—One year ago today, the iconic civil rights leaders Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin became the first same-sex couple to legally wed in the state of California. On June 16, 2008 at 5:01 pm, the couple, who were together for 55 years, married with the full weight of the California Constitution supporting their life-long commitment at San Francisco City Hall. Six weeks after their wedding, Del Martin passed away on August 27, 2008. More than 18,000 couples married after June 16, 2008.

A statement from Shannon Minter, Legal Director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights:

Today marks a bittersweet anniversary. On June 16, 2008, California’s Constitution truly protected all Californians equally. After the California Supreme Court issued its historic marriage decision on May 15, 2008, more than 18,000 same-sex couples exercised their constitutional freedom to marry before Proposition 8 passed on November 5, eliminating the right to full equality for same-sex couples in California.

On May 26, 2009, the California Supreme Court upheld Proposition 8, but protected the marriages of same-sex couples who married before November 5, 2008. The Court decided that the more than 18,000 legally married same-sex couples remain entitled to full recognition and respect by the State of California and by private employers and businesses. NCLR is working to ensure that these couples receive all the benefits and respect to which they are entitled under the law.

As we continue our work to restore equality to California’s Constitution, it is important to celebrate these families. We call on the 18,000 couples to stand up and be counted, to proudly claim your rightful status as married, and to share your experiences with friends, family, colleagues, and neighbors. With your help, we will build public support, win hearts and minds, and work for the day when all Californians will once again have the option to enter into civil marriages that are fully recognized by their state.

In the days ahead, all those who care about equality— and especially same-sex couples and their friends and family members—must give their fellow Californians a chance get beyond their fears and help them know and understand our families. Both Proposition 8 and the subsequent California Supreme Court decision were painful setbacks, but if we stay united and reach out to others with love and respect, there is no doubt that we will prevail.

The National Center for Lesbian Rights is a national legal organization committed to advancing the civil and human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people and their families through litigation, public policy advocacy, and public education. www.NCLRights.org.