February 10, 2013 at 3:37 pm EDT | by Chris Johnson
Lesbian guardsman who fought DOMA dies of cancer
Chief Warrant Officer Charlie Morgan died of cancer Sunday morning (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Chief Warrant Officer Charlie Morgan died of cancer Sunday morning (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

A lesbian member of the New Hampshire National Guard who fought the Defense of Marriage Act while battling incurable cancer finally succumbed to the disease early Sunday morning.

Chief Warrant Officer Charlie Morgan died at age 48 after fighting not only cancer, but working on behalf of LGBT rights as a plaintiff in a lawsuit against DOMA and an outspoken activist in favor of marriage equality. The LGBT military group OutServe-SLDN announced the news of her death on Sunday.

Calling Morgan a “courageous fighter,” Allyson Robinson, executive director of OutServe-SLDN, thanked those in a statement who had supported Morgan as well as her spouse Karen Morgan and daughter Casey Elena.

“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,” Robinson said. “The fight for full LGBT equality in this country is forever changed because Charlie Morgan took up the cause.”

In September 2011, Morgan was diagnosed with stage-four incurable breast cancer. After being first diagnosed with the disease in 2008 and undergoing a double mastectomy and chemotherapy, Morgan was declared cancer-free and was deployed to Kuwait, but was later informed her cancer had returned and had to undergo further treatment.

One of the service members plaintiffs in OutServe-SLDN’s litigation against DOMA known as McLaughlin v. Panetta, Morgan had met with staff of U.S. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) in February 2012 to encourage him to discontinue House Republican defense of the anti-gay law.

During a Washington Blade interview following the meeting at the time, Morgan said she wasn’t afraid to die, but told Boehner’s staff she wanted DOMA stricken from the books to ensure upon her death her spouse would be able to receive pension benefits given to straight counterparts in the U.S. military. The anti-gay law prohibits those pension benefits from flowing to same-sex spouses of troops as well as Social Security death benefits.

“I’m very worried about the military survivor benefits for Karen if I don’t survive this bout with cancer,” Morgan told the Blade. “I explained to her that I wasn’t afraid to die, but I was worried that Karen would not receive the same spousal survivor benefits as our heterosexual counterparts.”

While DOMA prohibits gay service members from receiving health and pension benefits, the Pentagon could extend administratively at any time other partner benefits to gay troops, such as military IDs, joint duty assignments, housing and access to family programs. However, the Defense Department has taken no action.

Morgan publicly came out as a lesbian during an interview on MSNBC on Sept. 20, 2011 — the day that “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was lifted — a law that had previously barred her from open service.

In addition to her efforts against DOMA, Morgan was among those who testified in Minneapolis, Minn, before the 15-member Democratic Party platform drafting committee in favor of including a marriage equality plank in the document. The panel ultimately decided to include the language in the platform.

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), the first U.S. senator to call for marriage equality in the Democratic platform and co-sposnor of legislation to repeal DOMA, issued a statement upon Morgan’s death thanking the service member for her work.

“Charlie Morgan epitomized courage — in her military service, her fight for LGBT equality, and her battle with cancer,” Shaheen said. “She showed us how to live and to die with dignity. I am honored I got to know Charlie and my heart goes out to her wife Karen, her daughter Casey [Elena] and her entire family.”

Additionally, Morgan was selected to lead the Pledge of Allegiance during the inauguration ceremony on Jan. 3 for New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan, who was elected to office after campaigning on upholding the marriage equality law in her state.

In a statement, Hassan said she and her husband were “deeply saddened” to learn about Morgan’s death, but predicted her efforts against DOMA wouldn’t be in vain.

“A dedicated soldier, wife and mother, her service and sacrifice exemplify what makes America and New Hampshire strong.” Hassan said. “Her fight for equality will outlive her fight against cancer. We can and should honor Charlie’s legacy by continuing her fight to ensure that all families are treated equally by the State of New Hampshire and by the federal government.”

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

  • Michael Bedwell

    There are two causes for sadness here. The foremost is her passing, and we salute her service to her country and to her community. Another sadness is that, yet again, even in this hour, SLDN is inexplicably asserting in their statement that, because of DOMA, her wife Karen is not entitled to ANY survivor’s benefits which they know not to be true as shown in the quote below from their latest “Freedom to Serve” guide. Even if it’s nothing but sloppy writing yet again, they are responsible for this hurtful myth unwittingly being perpetuated in ensuing report after report on Charlie’s passing. What has happened to this once great organization?

    “Service members may freely designate any person, including a same-sex partner, for the following benefits:
    – Beneficiary of Servicemembers Group Life Insurance (SGLI) and Veterans’ Group Life Insurance (VGLI) payments
    – Receipt of unused contributions from Post Vietnam-Era Veterans Assistance Program (VEAP) and the Montgomery G.I. Bill Death Benefit, as long as the person is also designated as an SGLI beneficiary
    – Beneficiary of Thrift-Savings Plan (TSP)
    – Retirement annuity under the Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP), as long as the service member is not in an opposite-sex marriage and does not have a dependent child
    – Beneficiary for Death Gratuity and Beneficiary for Unpaid Pay/Allowances on DD Form 93″

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