When Marvin Burrows' partner of 51 years, Bill Swenor, passed away, Burrows felt as if he lost everything. "I lost my lifelong partner, my home, our animals, income, my health insurance, and even my bed and furniture all in one fell swoop," he said.
First, Burrows was dropped from Swenor's employer-sponsored health insurance plan. Then, he not only stopped receiving the $2,000 a month in Social Security benefits he received through his husband, but he was denied spousal survivor benefits from the agency. It also took three years before Burrows could gain access to Swenor's pension plan benefits, leaving him with just $800 a month to survive on for years.
Many of the roadblocks Burrows faced stemmed from the Defense of Marriage Act, which was passed by Congress in 1996 and reserves marriage for a man and a woman. Even though Burrows and Swenor were legally married by the state of California, they were strangers in the eyes of the federal government.
With the help of a gay rights group, Burrows eventually gained access to about $800 a month from Swenor's pension. But without his husband's Social Security benefits, Burrows' income put him right at the poverty line. He could no longer afford the payments on the home he had shared with Swenor for 35 years. He had no other choice but to leave his home and move in with a friend, forcing him to get rid of his furniture, his cat and his pet parrots.
"We shared everything and loved only each other for our entire adult lives. It is unfair, and it is un-American that I should be left this way by our country."
Advocates are hopeful that President Obama's decision to support same-sex marriage will bring gay couples one step closer to equal treatment on taxes, Social Security and other important financial matters.
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