Sherlock Holmes, Conan Doyle, and Same-Sex Marriage

This month, I’m celebrating the equality of marriage.  The Art of Detection is a Kate Martinelli novel with two timelines, one of which is in the spring of 1924, when (according to the Mary Russell memoirs) Sherlock Holmes and Mary Russell spent some time in San Francisco. But maybe they didn’t.  Maybe the story of Sherlock Holmes and the transvestite singer is something Arthur Conan Doyle invented in a fever dream during his Spiritualist tour of 1923. In either case, “The Marriage of Billie Birdsong” is available as a free story this month, lifted whole from the larger tale. And we’ll be doing a sweepstakes giveaway beginning tomorrow—signed books! Wedding festivities!  Yay!

On this day in 2004, San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom (who is now California’s governor) declared the doors of City Hall be opened to all couples who wished to marry, no matter their sex.

Newsom had heard President George Bush, in his State of the Union address, declare that the US needed a federal amendment to ban same-sex marriage, and decided that enforcing California’s Constitution required him to extend equal protection to all, not just heterosexuals.

The first wedding that day was of Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin.

Del and Phyllis had lived together in San Francisco since 1953. Both women spent their lives fighting for gay rights—in law, in the Church, in health services and politics, and in the minds of the world.

For four short weeks, joyous celebrations took place in City Hall.  Then the California Supreme Court ordered a halt. All the marriages were declared void a few months later.

But four years later, the court reversed its decision, declaring that two people could marry in the state of California, regardless of the sex on their birth certificates.

Del and Phyllis had their second wedding on June 16, 2008.  Again, theirs was the first wedding of the day, performed by mayor Newsom.  Del died two months later, in August 2008.


“The Marriage of Billie Birdsong” can be found, free of charge, this month on the web page for The Art of Detection. If you enjoy it, you might want to order a copy or ten of the novel itself, either as a signed paperback, or as an e-book from your local Indie, from Barnes & Noble/Nook, or from Amazon/Kindle.


  1. Kay Kay on February 12, 2019 at 8:59 am

    By far, this installment in the Kate Martinelli series paired with Locked Rooms in the Russell series were my favorite books of LRK. So glad you are revisiting!! More Martinelli, please.
    Thank you, Laurie!

  2. Gill on February 16, 2019 at 4:25 am

    Reading this brought back the feelings of 2004. We watched from across the pond with excitement and some envy as Newsom took his brave step for equal rights. Friends from a web forum joined the queue at City Hall to get their marriage licence and I wept at the joyous pictures.

    Some 20 years earlier I had discovered A Grave Talent: a mainstream detective story with a gay central character. The importance of characters like Martinelli cannot be overstated. Representation matters. It gives hope to the oppressed and can change hearts and minds.

    Like Kay Kay, these are my favourite of your books. I can’t wait for Beginnings.

  3. Sharon on February 20, 2019 at 5:38 pm

    I still get tears in my eyes every single time I read the marriage scene at the end of Art of Detection. You captured the emotions of that day so beautifully and perfectly.

    My wife and I (in our late 40s) sometimes feel we are part of the most fortunate generation of gay and lesbian people — young enough to have a legal marriage that could last for decades, but old enough to have adult memories of when the possibility was unimaginable, and to never take our right to legal marriage for granted…

    Really looking forward to reading Beginnings!

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