Many of us were saddened by the news of the passing of CW2 Charlie Morgan. It’s a tragic end to a story about a woman who lived a life of service in the shadows, during the years when DADT was the policy of the US military. Like so many other lesbian and gay service members, Charlie served her country at a huge personal cost. After the repeal of DADT, while many others still feared repercussions with DOMA still on the books, Charlie had the courage to tell her story.
Charlie served proudly in the New Hampshire National Guard for seventeen years. More than ten years ago, she and her wife, Karen, entered into a civil union in Vermont, and last year wed in their home state. They have a daughter who is eligible for healthcare and survivor benefits, but her wife is not. Charlie simply wanted to take care of her family, just like any other responsible spouse.
Charlie was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2008. She underwent a double mastectomy and chemotherapy. When she was said to be cancer-free, she was deployed to Kuwait for a year’s tour. But last September, she was told the cancer had returned and was in her lymph nodes. The cancer was now incurable. So, like any other dedicated spouse, Charlie felt a renewed urgency to fight for a change in the law because that was the only way to secure the benefits that her family deserved. The benefits she earned during her years of service to this country.
And Charlie knew first hand how much those benefits meant. Her father had been killed in an accident while on active duty when she was three, and his survivor benefits were her mother’s source of support. But with DOMA still on the books, her wife would not receive those same benefits. So, Charlie wrote to the Speaker of the House, John Boehner. Her requests for a meeting were ignored at first. Finally, when a news organization got involved, a meeting was granted, but after she made the trip to DC, the Speaker sent an aide to meet with Charlie. She told her story, told him her time was short, and that her family needed their help. The aide listened and then told her the Speaker would continue to defend DOMA.
When Charlie’s wife, Karen, was asked about what a repeal of DOMA and full recognition as a military dependent would mean, it is said that she stated it would be great to be able to go to the commissary to shop for her family. The simplicity of a request to perform such a normal task is heartbreaking in its significance.
Charlie’s letter to the Speaker said, “Mr. Speaker, as a member of the Active Guard, I laid my life on the line for my country, and now I need my country to protect and care for my family. My wife and daughter face an uncertain future, unable to receive the same family support services as our counterparts who render the same service, take the same risks, and make the same sacrifices.” For those who serve in our military and sacrifice so much for our freedoms, that doesn’t seem like such a huge request.
Charlie Morgan lost her battle with cancer on Sunday. Charlie, like every other lesbian or gay service member—or indeed, every lesbian and gay citizen—wanted exactly what you want, America. The chance to live freely and receive the same benefits for hard work as any other citizen in this country.
That’s all we want. Why is this so hard to believe?