Charlie Morgan didn’t get her last wish.
On Sunday morning, the New Hampshire National Guard soldier succumbed to Stage IV breast cancer after a long battle against the disease and a federal law that now leaves her widow with none of the benefits a grateful nation bestows on its straight warriors.
As I wrote here on Thanksgiving, Morgan, who came out as a lesbian on MSNBC in September 2011, the day the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy became history, hoped she would outlive the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). The Clinton-era law forbids Karen, her legally married wife, from receiving the survivor benefits other military widows get.
That money would have gone a long way toward helping raise their young daughter Casey. Just like the death benefits Charlie’s mother got when her soldier husband died in an accident during the Vietnam War went to pay for food and a roof for young Charlie.
“I’m praying that they take it up soon,” Morgan told me in a phone interview from her home in New Durham, N.H. a few days before Thanksgiving. “It’s my motivation for staying alive. I really need to be alive when they actually do overturn DOMA, otherwise Karen is not guaranteed anything.”
Charlie was buoyed when the Supreme Court announced two weeks later that they would indeed hear a challenge to DOMA as well as the California’s Proposition 8 that banned gay marriage there. The date was set for March.
But Charlie, who voluntarily stopped chemotherapy last April so that she and Karen could take Casey to Disney World, visit family and otherwise try to make her final months the best they could be, won’t be in the courtroom on that momentous day.
It isn’t known whether Morgan learned of Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s pending announcement that the Pentagon would extend some benefits to same-sex partners. Among those privileges would be access to the on-base commissaries. When I met Charlie and Karen in Las Vegas in October 2011 at the first convention of openly gay servicemembers, one of the first slights they mentioned was not being able to shop for groceries in the military supermarket, despite Charlie’s more than 20 years of service on active duty and in the Guard.
For Karen, the change likely comes as small consolation now that her partner of more than a decade is gone.
Charlie “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,” said Allyson Robinson, executive director of OutServe-SLDN, the gay servicemembers organization. “The fight for full LGBT equality in this country is forever changed because Charlie Morgan took up the cause.”
Funeral arrangements are pending. Full military honors are likely — even if full recognition didn’t come soon enough for Charlie Morgan.
Andrea Stone is a freelance journalist and consultant who has worked at The Huffington Post, AOL News and USA TODAY. Follow her on Twitter at @andreastonez