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Two-year legal
battle ends with man receiving partner's benefits

Two-year legal
battle ends with man receiving partner's benefits


One man's fight for the pension benefits left by his same-sex partner of 51 years has resulted in a change of policy at his partner's labor union that will improve not only his life but the lives of thousands of other union members.

After a two-year struggle to receive the pension benefits of his late partner of five decades, a Hayward, Calif., man is able to collect his rightful compensation.

"I am overwhelmed and excited that I will receive what Bill promised me in case he passed away before me," Marvin Burrows said. "Finally our community is being recognized, and my 51 years with Bill will mean something to others, not just me. I know Bill is smiling down on me today."

The 71-year-old man's partner, William Swenor, died in March 2005 at the age of 66. Before his death the couple registered as domestic partners and then married in San Francisco in February 2004, though the California supreme court later nullified their union.

Swenor was a member of the Industrial Employers and Distributors Association for 35 years, paying into the pension fund regularly. After his death Burrows filed a claim to receive his benefits, but his request was turned down twice. As a result, he was forced to leave his home and was left completely destitute, according to a statement released by the National Center for Lesbian Rights, which took his case in 2005.

After the International Longshore and Warehouse Union became aware of Burrows's plight, it renegotiated its pact with IEDA to grant benefits to domestic partners, making the change retroactive to benefit Burrows.

NCLR Elder Law Project coordinator Joyce Pierson said in the statement that this situation is becoming all too common as the population grows older. "For surviving heterosexual spouses, marriage automatically ensures access to pension and retirement benefits," she said. "We applaud the ILWU for doing the right thing. We should not forget, however, that the vast majority of same-sex partners in California still do not have this protection." (The Advocate)

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