The former homosexual lover and business partner of assassinated Supervisor Harvey Milk is expected to receive $5,500 in survivor's death benefits as the result of an unprecedented ruling in this city with a large gay population.

The ruling was made by the San Francisco Retirement Board Tuesday by a vote of 3 to 1, marking the first time death benefits have been awarded to the survivor of a homosexual relationship, according to board records.

Supervisor Milk and Mayor George Moscone were assassinated on Nov. 27, 1978, by former supervisor Dan White, who was distraught over not being reappointed to the board.

The recipient, Scott Smith, lived with Milk for five years and was his business partner in a camera store on Castro Street, the heart of San Francisco's gay community.

"I think it's wonderful," said an elated Smith, who termed the ruling a "moral precedent."

After their business failed, Smith, who says he was totally dependent on Milk for economic support, became a graphic designer.

At the time of the assassination, Smith and Milk were no longer living together. They remained business partners, and, said Smith, "Milk continued to pay my rent and utilities."

Under California law, dependents of city employes killed on the job can receive as much as $50,000 in benefits. If there are no dependents, the money accrues to the state and the city. The city pays the benefits.

In this case, the retirement board's decision to recognize Smith as a partial dependent means the state will receive $26,000 while the city will receive $18,500. The remainder, $5,500, would go to Smith. The retirement board's decision is expected to receive routine approval from a state appeals board.

"Retirement board decisions are seldom simple or easy," said Peter Ashe, board president, who voted for the Smith benefits only reluctantly. "How do we know who Milk's domestic partner was?" he asked.

That question may soon be resolved for future cases.

On Tuesday, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors' civil service and general administration committee unanimously approved a proposal to give gays and other unmarried couples the same benefits as married couples.

The three-member board consists of Harry Britt, a gay supervisor who replaced Milk; Carol Ruth Silver, an attorney and never-married mother of two; and John Molinari, who has been married for 21 years.

The proposal would give homosexual and heterosexual "domestic partners" the same rights as married couples to take sick leave and bereavement leave and to receive low-cost health insurance.

Gay and straight couples would be required to file sworn statements with the San Francisco clerk's office declaring that they are each other's "principal domestic partner."

"Chances for passage of the proposal by the Board of Supervisors are excellent," said supervisor Molinari. "What it really means is that domestic partners will have the same privileges as married people," he said.