My Tribute to Marvin Burrows

Last week, I received the following Facebook post from Marvin Burrows:

"Last message for a while as I am going to Kaiser Hayward for surgery Friday the 13th in 2013! Oh well, I really want this surgery to work this time as I am sick of pain and the lack of the ability to walk without pain. I couldn't even go Christmas shopping this year. See all soon, I hope, and please drop by Kaiser to say hi then leave a happy patient. Love. Marvin"

Marvin died on the following Saturday from post-surgery complications.

Individuals like Burrows, whom I've had the pleasure of knowing for the past 12 years were the face of marriage equality that has spawned my unwavering support.

From testimony provided before the Senate Judiciary Committee on July 20, 2011, Burrows stated:

"My parents knew I was homosexual by the time I was 15 years old. They decided to put me in a 'mental home' to be 'cured' of this dreaded 'disease.' I tried to hang myself so my family wouldn't have to be embarrassed that I was a queer. After the suicide attempt, instead of being committed, I was given the choice to do outpatient therapy.

"The physiatrist helped me learn how to live in society and how to protect myself. Considering the times, the early 1950s, that doctor was a true exception! I believe that without his help I would not be alive today.

"I met the love of my life, William Duane Swenor, in 1953. He was 15 and I was 17. My father found out and told me to leave home if I continued to see Bill. After my dad kicked me out, I had no place to go, and I was still in high school. I stayed with my grandmother until Bill could ask his mother if I could move in with them. She gave her permission, I moved in, and from that time on, we lived as a committed couple."

For 51 years, Marvin and Bill lived together.

They opened joint bank accounts, sharing expenses and life as would any other married couple.
Marvin and Bill took every legal action to protect their relationship, drawing up legal papers in case of illness, injury or death. When the California State Domestic Partners Registry became available in 2000, Marvin and Bill registered.

On Feb. 15, 2004, Marvin and Bill were married when San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom extended marriage rights to gay and lesbian couples. At that time, they had been together 50 years.

But in August 2004, the California Supreme Court nullified same-gender unions, and seven months later, Bill died suddenly of a massive heart attack.

Marvin was denied the right to have Bill cremated since he did not have a current power of attorney as they were considered "roommates."

Moreover, Marvin could not collect Social Security benefits based on Bill's earnings and was forced to move out of their home of 35 years. He lost his life partner, their home, and the mementos that go along with building a life together.

What befell Marvin was the tragic residue of society's inability to catch up to the values that it had already committed.

At the beginning and end of life, Marvin deserved better. But sandwiched between was 51 years of love and devotion. How many wish the latter could also be part of their life testimony?

After Bill's death, Marvin was the happy warrior fighting for marriage equality. Any anger or frustration he felt, rarely, if at all, shone through.

Marvin possessed something that few get the opportunity to experience -- to find at a very early age one's lifelong partner. He will be missed by many who loved and adored him.