This story was initially created as part of the Marriage Equality Movement Family Story Quilt which premiered at San Francisco City Hall on National Freedom to Marry Day in February 2007, honoring the historic Winter of Love and the 40th anniversary of the 1967 U.S. Supreme Court Loving vs. Virginia decision. These family stories -- created in 2007 -- now have many updates, babies have been born, many couples have gotten legally married in California in 2008, some have divorced, some have won historic union battles and so much more ... stay tuned for updates!
Marvin Burrows & Bill Swenor
- Partners for 51 years
- Marvin is Irish/German & Bill was Bohemian/Czech heritage
- Marvin lives in Hayward, CA
In the 1950s, when I was a teenager in Flint, Michigan, I fell in love. I had just turned 17 and Bill was 15. He was much more mature than me and was tall, dark and handsome. I moved in with he and his mother after my father kicked me out of our house because of my association with Bill. I refused to give up Bill. The only time we were ever apart was when I served in the U.S. Air Force. We moved to the San Francisco Bay Area in 1966 and lived as a couple for 51 years.
As soon as it became law in 1999, we registered as Domestic Partners. We wanted to do everything possible to protect our relationship. We were married at San Francisco City Hall on February 15th, 2004 in hopes that it would make a statement to everyone that was both political and personal. We were both surprised on how much the ceremony affected us emotionally. We were very surprised that our friends and family congratulated with so much feeling. We did not tell many people in advance that we were going to try to marry.
My life was turned upside down when Bill died unexpectedly of a heart attack in March 2005. I encountered obstacles at every turn. On the day he died I was told that even though I was his domestic partner, I did not have the right to make burial arrangements for him. I was denied access to Bill's retirement plan, social security benefits and my health benefits ended because of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). Without access to those benefits, I was forced to move from the home we shared for over 30 years. We tried to do the best we could to protect each other, but it was not expected that Bill would die first.
Ironically, if Bill had been married to five women for ten years each during the 50 years we were together, they would each be entitled to receive his full social security benefits. Bill and I both paid into the social security system. We shared our lives and loved only each other for our entire lifetime. It is unfair, and un-American that I should be left this way by my country. Marriage Equality will give LGBT Californian's the financial security that has not been there for me. It is too late for Bill and me, but it is not too late for other gay and lesbian families in California.
This is an edited excerpt from Marvin Burrows testimony in Sacramento, CA on May 18, 2005 in front of the California Assemblies Appropriations Committee on AB 19, the Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Protection Act, authored by Assemblymember Mark Leno (D-San Francisco).
The exhibit has toured extensively and is now part of an ongoing exhibit called THE LOVING QUILT 2010: A People's Living History - and Herstory - of Marriage Equality & Family Justice Movements
A Project of Marriage Equality USA in collaboration with NUMEROUS creative individuals & community, state and national organizations.
Maya Scott-Chung, MPH is the Creative Director and Curator of THE LOVING QUILT 2010 which was created during 2006-2010 as part of Maya's Masters in Public Health/ Community Health Education Thesis at San Francisco State University.
For exhibit booking and further information contact Maya: firstname.lastname@example.org (510) 381-0876
THE LOVING QUILT Webpage: www.marriageequality.org/quilt