A lesbian guardsman suffering from cancer is calling on House Speaker John Boehner to stop defending the Defense of Marriage Act in court.
She met with staff in his D.C. office on Thursday in an effort to convince the Ohio Republican to discontinue support for the anti-gay law.
Chief Warrant Officer Charlie Morgan met with Katherine Haley, a policy assistant to Boehner, to ask the speaker to drop defense of DOMA so that upon her death, her spouse, Kathy Morgan, can receive federal benefits. Morgan serves in the New Hampshire National Guard and just returned from deployment in Kuwait.
In September 2011, the guardsman was diagnosed with stage-four incurable breast cancer. After being first diagnosed in 2008 and undergoing a double mastectomy and chemotherapy, Morgan was declared cancer-free and deployed to Kuwait, but was later informed her cancer had returned and has resumed chemotherapy.
“I’m very worried about the military survivor benefits for Karen if I don’t survive this bout with cancer,” Morgan said in a Washington Blade interview. “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.”
Among the benefits that Morgan is seeking for her spouse are survivor’s benefits, Social Security benefits and health insurance coverage.
Morgan said Boehner’s staffer spoke with her for about 15 to 20 minutes and was “polite” and “empathetic,” but said Boehner would probably continue to defend DOMA in court.
“I told her that I believe in miracles, but it was important for her to relate to the speaker that I need this to happen now because I don’t have the time necessarily to wait through the legislative or judicial process,” Morgan said. “If he were to not defend DOMA, that would immediately [help] my family and benefit us.”
Michael Steele, a Boehner spokesperson, confirmed “the meeting did occur,” but declined to offer any more information about the discussion or Morgan’s call for Boehner to discontinue his defense of DOMA.
The Morgans are among the plaintiffs in the lawsuit that Servicemembers Legal Defense Network filed in October on behalf of gay troops and veterans against DOMA on the basis that the anti-gay law blocks them form receiving federal benefits afforded to service members in opposite-sex marriages. Morgan attended the meeting with Boehner’s staff along with David McKean, an SLDN attorney.
During the meeting, Morgan submitted photos of herself in uniform, and with her partner and daughter as well as a letter dated Feb. 9 about her struggle with cancer, her family’s military history and how the veterans benefits her mother received upon the death of her father, who was in the Army and deployed twice to Germany, helped her keep “a roof over our heads and food on the table.”
“The military informs us that it is only as strong as the families that support it,” the letter states. “In turn, my military leadership supports my efforts to attain benefits to take care of my family. As a service member who has proven that I am willing to die for my country I am asking you not to defend DOMA for the sake of the many people whose lives it negatively impacts.”
The meeting follows a similar letter dated Dec. 23 that Morgan sent to Boehner asking him for a meeting to discuss the negative impact that DOMA has on her family.
After the Justice Department announced last year President Obama had determined DOMA was unconstitutional and would no longer defend the statute against litigation, Boehner convened the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group in the House, which voted in March along party lines to take up defense in the administration’s stead.
Congress is unlikely to repeal DOMA legislatively given its given makeup. The Senate Judiciary Committee reported out legislation to repeal the law in November, but there are no plans for a floor vote. Success on the House floor is unlikely and Boehner has indicated he won’t bring up the repeal legislation to a vote.
The Obama administration has a deadline of Feb. 28 to respond to the lawsuit in which Morgan is a plaintiff. The administration is expected to decline to take up defense of the law and for Boehner to take up defense of the law as he has with other DOMA cases.
Aubrey Sarvis, SLDN’s executive director, said in a statement Boehner should drop defense of DOMA so the courts can decide the constitutionality of the anti-gay law on their own and permit Morgan and others in same-sex relationships to receive federal benefits.
“Our message for Speaker Boehner and others today is simply this: Chief Warrant Officer Charlie Morgan can’t wait,” Sarvis said. “She and her family deserve equal treatment, and she may not have years for this process to play out in the courts or on Capitol Hill. Speaker Boehner can make a difference here, and we respectfully ask him to take a look at this case and get to know this family. We are confident that when he does, he will see that these discriminatory laws hurt our military, harm families and are indefensible.”
The meeting with Boehner’s office isn’t the only one Morgan had on Capitol Hill. The lesbian guardsman also met with her member of Congress, Rep. Frank Guinta (R-N.H.), about her desire for Boehner to discontinue defense of DOMA. SLDN’s McKean was present during this meeting as well.
Morgan said she spoke with Guinta for close to 10 minutes. She said he was also “empathetic” to her situation and said he’d “see what he can do.”
“I also explained to him that I knew that he was pro-military because he comes from New Hampshire and the congressional delegates from New Hampshire are pro-military,” Morgan said. “But I explained to him that for me it was a military issue. It wasn’t just my issue. It was an issue for all other thousands of gay and lesbian families in the same situation across the nation.”
A spokesperson for Guinta declined to comment on the meeting, saying its was a private discussion between the lawmaker and one of his constituents. Guinta isn’t a co-sponsor of the Respect for Marriage Act, legislation that would repeal DOMA.
In addition to the lawsuit, SLDN also launched an online petition at Change.org on the same day of the meeting calling on Boehner to discontinue his defense of DOMA in court. As of late afternoon on Thursday, the petition had 211 signatures.