Soldier who fought for same-sex equality succumbs to breast cancer before Supreme Court ruling on Defence of Marriage Act
Charlie Morgan, a career soldier from New Hampshire, has been at the forefront of the battle for equality for years. She came out on TV when the US military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy came to an end, in 2011, and is part of one of eight couples named as plaintiffs in a lawsuit challenging the federal Defense of Marriage Act (Doma).
But Morgan, 48, died on Sunday, of breast cancer, before the lawsuit was heard by the US supreme court, dashing her hope that Doma would die before she did. The court is expected to rule on the law later this year.
Morgan leaves behind a wife, Karen, who will not be eligible for the survivor benefits afforded to a male military spouse, and nor for social security benefits that would help her take care of their 5-year-old daughter, Casey.
The couple were legally married in New Hampshire after a 12-year legal partnership, but Doma only recognises a spouse as someone of the opposite sex, thus prohibiting recognition for lawful marriages between same-sex couples.
Morgan’s breast cancer was diagnosed in 2008. A chief warrant officer for the New Hampshire National Guard, she and her wife repeatedly spoke out about how Doma would hurt their family if she died. They appeared in a poignant video for Freedom To Marry, calling for Doma’s repeal.
In an interview last year, Morgan told the Washington Post that same-sex couples wanted more than financial equality with heterosexual soldiers and their families, in order to feel like they really belonged.
Allyson Robinson, the executive director of OutServe-SLDN, paid tribute to “a courageous fighter for our country, for her family, and for the equality of all who wear the uniform of our nation”.
In a statement announcing Morgan’s death, Robinson said: “She made an indelible mark on everyone she met with her integrity, her positive outlook, and her unflinching commitment to righting the wrongs visited upon gay and lesbian military families. The fight for full LGBT equality in this country is forever changed because Charlie Morgan took up the cause.”
On Monday, Leon Panetta, the defense secretary, announced a raft of benefits the military would now grant to military members and retirees with same-sex partners. He said it marked the completion of the repeal of the “don’t ask don’t tell” policy, which barred gay and lesbian military members from serving openly.
The move, which will make benefits such as military IDs, legal assistance and childcare, morale, welfare and recreation programs available to gay troops with same-sex partners as early as 31 August, was welcomed as a historic step by rights groups. The Department of Homeland Security and the Coast Guard said it would extend the same benefits as those announced by the Pentagon. However, many of the benefits, such as those covering housing, medical and dental care are not included, because they are restricted under Doma.
In a memo to service chiefs outlining the policy, Panetta wrote: “In the event that the Defense of Marriage Act is no longer applicable to the Department of Defense, it will be the policy of the department to construe the words ‘spouse’ and ‘marriage’ without regard to sexual orientation and married couples, irrespective of sexual orientation and their dependants, will be granted full military benefits.”
The Washington Blade reported on Monday that the benefits could not be applied posthumously, so Morgan’s family will not be eligible for them.