U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen said Thursday she will soon introduce "the Charlie Morgan Act" to end several restrictions on benefits for legal spouses of military service members and veterans, regardless of their sexual orientation.
The bill is named for Charlie Morgan, a lesbian New Hampshire National Guard Chief Warrant Officer from New Durham who died earlier this week of cancer at 48 and whose family will be ineligible for survivor benefits due to provisions of the Defense of Marriage Act.
Speaking on the U.S. Senate floor on Capitol Hill, Shaheen, a New Hampshire Democrat, noted that Morgan received national attention for advocating on behalf of fellow gay service members and their families.
"However," Shaheen said, "first and foremost Charlie was a soldier."
Shaheen said Morgan enlisted in the U.S. in 1982 and then returned to service as a member of the Kentucky National Guard in 1992, a year before the now-repealed "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy became law.
Morgan returned again after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 as a member of the 197th Fires Brigade of the New Hampshire National Guard and was deployed for about a year in Kuwait.
"In addition to the mental and emotional challenges of military service, CWO Morgan shouldered the constant burden of keeping her life secret from her fellow soldiers," Shaheen said. "The Morgans were unable to take advantage of the many support programs that are so essential to the health and well-being of military families.
"There is a special place in our history for those brave individuals who have stepped forward to defend our country, often giving their lives, to protect the very same freedoms denied to them out of uniform," Shaheen said.
"From the African Americans who served time and again with distinction despite enduring slavery and segregation, to the famed Japanese-American units in World War II, the sacrifice of so many in service of a government too slow to ensure their equality did as much to illustrate the hypocrisy of discrimination as any of our national debates."
Shaheen said that when Morgan was diagnosed for a second time with breast cancer in 2011, she challenged the constitutionality of DOMA in federal court. The case is scheduled to be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court later this year.
"It is unfortunate that Charlie was unable to see Defense Secretary (Leon) Panetta's announcement this week that LBGT service members and their families will now receive all possible Department of Defense benefits allowable under DOMA," said Shaheen. "She played an enormous role in bringing awareness to this issue and I think she would have been very pleased to hear the news.
"Every individual that provides for our defense deserves the peace of mind that comes with knowing one's family will be taken care of should the worst happen," Shaheen said. "No one should ever again go through what Charlie and her family had to go through. I hope my colleagues will act quickly to address this issue."