N.H. Guardsman Urges House Republicans to Stop Defending DOMA

by Michael K. Lavers

National News Editor

Thursday February 9, 2012

A New Hampshire guardsman with terminal cancer traveled to Capitol Hill on Thursday to urge House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to stop defending the federal Defense of Marriage Act.

Chief Warrant Officer Charlie Morgan, a member of the New Hampshire National Guard, met with Boehner policy advisor Katherine Haley. She handed Haley pictures of her wife Karen and their 4-year-old daughter as she pointed out that DOMA forbids the military from providing on-base housing, health care, burial rights, survivor and other spousal benefits to the same-sex partners of gay and lesbian servicemembers. Morgan and her mother received these benefits after her father died while in active duty in 1967.

"Those benefits clothed us, put food on the table and a roof over our heads," Morgan told EDGE immediately after the meeting. "I know from personal experience how important those benefits are."

Morgan also met with New Hampshire Congressman Frank Guinta while on Capitol Hill. A spokesperson for the first-term Republican declined to comment on the specifics of his meeting with Morgan because it was considered a "private conversation."

Morgan underwent a bilateral mastectomy and several rounds of chemotherapy in 2008 after doctors diagnosed her with breast cancer. Her oncologist declared her cancer free before she deployed to Kuwait, but doctors diagnosed Morgan with stage-four breast cancer last September after she returned to New Hampshire.

Morgan is among the eight gay and lesbian servicemembers and veterans who filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of DOMA in federal court last October. The Southern Poverty Law Center last week announced that it would file a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs on behalf of a disabled California veteran whose applications for spousal benefits for her wife was denied.

"My fear is that Karen will not receive those same benefits that my heterosexual military members are afforded," said Morgan. "I'm not afraid to die, but I am afraid for them. I'm afraid that they won't be taken care of."

The White House announced last February that it would no longer defend DOMA in federal court. The Senate Judiciary Committee in November approved a measure that would repeal the Clinton-era law, but House Republicans continue to defend it with taxpayer dollars.

The Servicemembers Legal Defense Network also on Thursday launched a petition on Change.org that urges Boehner to drop his legal defense of DOMA. The Justice Department has until Feb. 28 to respond to the lawsuit that Morgan and her fellow gay and lesbian servicemembers and veterans filed.

"Our message for Speaker Boehner and others today is simply this: Chief Warrant Officer Charlie Morgan can't wait," said SLDN executive director Audrey Sarvis. "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."

Morgan undergoes her second round of intravenous chemotherapy on Feb. 27. She said she hopes her story will prompt Boehner and other House GOP leaders to reconsider their defense of the Clinton-era law.

"I've proven that I'm willing to die for my country and now I just have to stand up and do this for my family," said Morgan. "All I can do is put a human face-a human family, and I left pictures of my family-so he can see we're real people, we're real folks and this does hurt us."

Based in Washington, D.C., Michael K. Lavers has appeared in the New York Times, BBC, WNYC, Huffington Post, Village Voice, Advocate and other mainstream and LGBT media outlets. He is an unapologetic political junkie who thoroughly enjoys living inside the Beltway.