I met Marvin Burrows (pictured in the photo at right alongside his husband) in 2003 at the Creating Change Conference in Miami at a discussion on marriage equality. It was a very small circle, maybe 10 people. It wasn't something that was on most people's radar screens at the time.
Marvin mentioned that he and his sweetheart, Bill, were coming up on their 50th anniversary and that they wanted to get legally married. It was like shock and awe. I was awed about his five-decade-long relationship with Bill and shocked to learn that Marvin lived only 15 minutes from me back in the Bay Area.
I was also shocked that this 67-year-old man had flown all the way to Miami to advocate for LGBT equality. This was a committed activist and I was blown away. When he told us that he was in a 50-year long-term relationship I can't tell you how excited Molly and I were to have found our new LGBT senior poster couple. It was like striking gold! We exchanged contact info and got connected with Marvin when we returned.
When Gavin Newsom suddenly started giving out marriage licenses we approached Senator Mark Leno and asked if he would perform their wedding ceremony. He agreed. The beautiful photo of the couple was seen around the world! So joyous! But the celebration was cut short by the courts who voided the marriages, and by Bill's sudden death in March 2005.
There's almost nothing worse I can imagine than losing a spouse, but as we all know that wasn't Marvin's only loss. What he didn't lose was his courageous heart and his spirit for justice and equality.
Marvin stayed open-hearted and positive through unimaginable challenges, discrimination, and blows to his dignity. He got involved in speaking out for LGBT seniors and ultimately for all of us. He wanted every same-sex couple and every LGBT individual to have the same respect, rights, and dignity that heterosexual couples and individuals are afforded.
Marvin showed up at every rally, even at times when he should have stayed home and taken care of himself. He carried signs, did interviews, spoke at the state capitol, lobbied politicians, and traveled around the state, so that never again would an LGBT widow or widower face homelessness, lose their health insurance, or be told by a funeral home director that they are "not family."
The magnitude of Marvin's courage rippled out -- not only did it help to change the Longshoreman's union that Bill belonged to, it opened the hearts and minds of those who didn't "get gay marriage."
Marvin gave us an example of how to walk in the world with dignity and respect, stay positive and open-hearted, how to laugh and never give up no matter what, and to never stop helping others, no matter how many curve balls are thrown your way. Now that's what I call a love warrior.
Even now I can see Marvin's bright smile and hear his youthful, playful voice saying, "OIt's not over. We still have 33 states to go and Russia." He's happy and reunited with Bill, and I think I can even hear him teasing Bill about those "damn cigars."
We love you, Marvin. You will always live on in our hearts. Thank you!
To read more about Marvin, click here.