Diane Olson, marriage equality activist, dies at 65

Activists Robin Tyler, and Diane Olson, right, (seen in a July 2008 photo) helped fight and win the battle for marriage equality. Olson died Wednesday at the age of 65. Photo: Rex Wockner.

Lesbian activist Diane Olson, who helped fight and win the battle for marriage equality in California, died Wednesday.

Olson, the wife of fellow activist and comedian Robin Tyler, 76, died from brain cancer at the couple’s home in North Hills, the Los Angeles Blade reports. Olson was 65.


Olson and Tyler were a couple 25 years and were the first plaintiffs in a lawsuit that paved the way for the California Supreme Court to rule in favor of marriage equality in 2008.

Olson and Tyler married at 5:01 p.m June 16, the earliest time in the day they could wed, at a Beverly Hills courthouse.

Another trailblazing lesbian couple, Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon, married at the same time in San Francisco. The two lesbian couples were the first same-sex couples legally married in the state.

Olson and Tyler had arrived at the same courthouse every year starting in 2001 on Valentine’s Day to apply for a marriage license and had been rejected. That discrimination motivated them to file a lawsuit against the state in 2004 with Troy Perry and Phillip Ray de Blieck.

The two couples were represented by high profile attorney Gloria Allred. Their lawsuit was eventually consolidated with others and ultimately ended with the California high court’s May 2008 ruling.

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However, the excitement around that ruling was short lived.

In November 2008, voters approved Proposition 8, which amended California’s constitution and outlawed same-sex marriage and also voided the state Supreme Court’s ruling on marriage equality.

Couples who were married previous to the Proposition 8 approval remained legally wed.

About five years later, the issue was eventually resolved. A federal court struck down Proposition 8, and the U.S Supreme Court, in 2013, let that ruling stay in place. Marriage equality returned to California.

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Olson had politics in her blood. She’s the granddaughter of Culbert Olson, California’s 29th and first Democrat governor of the 20th century (1939-1943).

Her great-grandmother was a suffragist who became Utah’s first female elected official.


Olson developed lung cancer in 2012, and it metastasized into brain cancer in 2016. She told The Advocate in 2017 that she wanted to be remembered for her role in the marriage equality movement and for her sobriety.

“I’m a recovering heroin addict,” she said. “and I am very proud of that.”

Funeral arrangements have not yet been announced.

About the author

Phillip Zonkel

Award-winning journalist Phillip Zonkel spent 17 years at Long Beach's Press-Telegram, where he was the first reporter in the paper's history to have a beat covering the city's vibrant LGBTQ. He also created and ran the popular and innovative LGBTQ news blog, Out in the 562.

He won two awards and received a nomination for his reporting on the local LGBTQ community, including a two-part investigation that exposed anti-gay bullying of local high school students and the school districts' failure to implement state mandated protections for LGBTQ students.

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