Every year around Valentine’s Day, Robin Tyler and Diane Olson went to the Beverly Hills courthouse and asked to be married. And every year they were denied.
Instead of a marriage license, a clerk handed them a document explaining that “marriage is between a man and a woman.”
On Friday morning, Olson and Tyler woke up early. Still in their pajamas, they made coffee, fed their pugs and turned on CNN.
When the news came down that the U.S. Supreme Court had ruled that same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marriage, the longtime couple embraced.
“We cried like babies,” Olson said.
She and Tyler are a part of a small tribe of gay and lesbian activists whose court battles for marriage rights at the state level helped pave the way to Friday’s historic ruling by the nation’s highest court.
In 2004, after being denied repeatedly at the Beverly Hills courthouse, they sued to challenge California’s same-sex marriage ban. A California Supreme Court judge ruled in their favor, and Tyler and Olson were married in 2008. They were the first same-sex couple to do so in Los Angeles County.
Later that year, California voters approved Proposition 8, which put gay marriages on hold. Same-sex unions resumed in 2013, after the proposition was found by a judge to be unconstitutional.
On Friday, Tyler and Olson held a news conference about the Supreme Court ruling with their attorney in the 2004 case, Gloria Allred.
“It’s like New Year's Eve for our community,” Tyler said, dabbing at tears with a tissue. “It’s a miracle that it happened. When you struggle long enough for something, you win.”
She and Olson met in Los Angeles in the 1970s. They were close for many years – “Thanksgiving and Hanukkah friends”– until things turned romantic 22 years ago.
Tyler, a Canadian native with short dark hair, was an outspoken gay-rights activist and a comedian who often incorporated her sexuality into her stand-up routine (the name of one of her comedy albums: “Always a Bridesmaid, Never a Groom”).
Olson was a California girl with long, blond locks and, as Tyler described it, with “a very spiritual side.”
“I really wanted to marry her,” Tyler said. “And I couldn’t marry her.”
Their 2004 lawsuit catapulted them into the public sphere. But their court victory and eventual union was bittersweet, they said, given that many same-sex couples did not have the right to marry in other states.
“It was hard having marriage apartheid in the United States,” Tyler said. She and Olson have become close friends and supporters of April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse, a lesbian couple from Michigan who were part of the Supreme Court case.
Friday’s ruling, she said, is not the end of the struggle for civil rights for gays, lesbians, bisexual and transgender people. Additional protections against employment discrimination and violence against people on account of their sexual orientation are still needed, she said.
“This is the crack in the foundation,” Tyler said. “Today is not the end, it’s the beginning.”
Allred nodded. “There are many battles to be fought,” she said.
But first, Allred said, “We’re going to celebrate.”
She took the couple out to lunch after the news conference. On Friday night all three are scheduled to speak at a rally in West Hollywood.
“We’re going to play,” Olson said. She turned to Tyler and smiled. “ My sweet,” she told her. “We did good.”