After 32 years together, it was the advice of a lawyer that finally pushed Susie Bright and Jon Bailiff into matrimony.
“It was Covid-19 — we were already devoted but needed to pull the wedding trigger to cover every weird possibility in today’s existential apocalypse,” said Ms. Bright, a well-known vanguard in the sex-positive feminist movement.
“It’s taken all this time to iron out the prenup,” Mr. Bailiff, an artist, educator, political activist and accomplished surfer, said jokingly.
To many in their large circle of friends, the real joke was that Ms. Bright, 62, and Mr. Bailiff, 61, were already the most married of couples.
After meeting in 1988 at a San Francisco tire shop where Mr. Bailiff then worked, flirty banter led to a make-out session in Ms. Bright’s red sports car. Mr. Bailiff was in a relationship, but he couldn’t stop thinking about Ms. Bright.
Months later, he tracked her down at her workplace using details scrounged from the receipt of Ms. Bright’s tire sale. His message: “Jon from Coastside Tires wants to know if she needs her tires rotated.”
Ms. Bright was then the editor of the first women-produced lesbian sex magazine, “On Our Backs,” which began publication in 1984. From 1986 to 1989, she wrote cinematic reviews of erotic films for Penthouse Forum magazine.Since then, she has authored numerous books on sex and sexual politics, edited the long-running annual “Best American Erotica” series, and taught college courses on the politics of erotic film imagery. Since 2012, she has been an editor at large at Audible.
Ms. Bright understood Mr. Bailiff’s message. After their first date, to which Ms. Bright wore a latex dress and earrings that were never found again, they began seeing each other regularly, yet always in an open relationship. In 1990, after Ms. Bright had given birth to her daughter, the couple forged a three-parent family with Ms. Bright’s former partner, the photographer Honey Lee Cottrell.
In 1994, Ms. Bright and Mr. Bailiff moved into a brightly colored Victorian house in Santa Cruz, Calif., where over the years they have hosted an array of thematic gatherings routinely involving feasting and dancing. They cultivate a large garden, enjoy exploring the wilderness and spend a lot of time in the ocean.
“Early on Susie told me she was my lucky star and now I know what she meant: She brought direction,” Mr. Bailiff said. “She is the most generous spirit I have ever known.”
On the foggy afternoon of July 14 the couple were married at the Santa Cruz County Clerk’s office, where they delighted in seeing a popular Beatles lyric painted on the wall. Both wore plaid wool shirts to ward off the chill; Mr. Bailiff surprised Ms. Bright with an heirloom ring passed down through his family.
“Jon brings beauty and surprise to everything we’ve ever cherished,” Ms. Bright said.
That evening back at home, the couple changed into the fancy clothes they had planned for a sunny and warmer day and happily answered the doorbell as multiple bottles of champagne and flower bouquets arrived from friends and family.
“We’ll always laugh at the institution of marriage,” Mr. Bailiff said. “But love wins.”