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Charlie Morgan Act would extend benefits for veterans in same-sex marriages

(Washington, DC) – U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) today introduced the Charlie Morgan Military Spouses Equal Treatment Act as an amendment to a comprehensive veterans bill that the Senate is debating this week and is designed to improve the lives of our nation’s veterans and their families. Shaheen’s amendment would extend federal benefits to legally married, same-sex veteran couples and help put the U.S Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) policies in accordance with the Supreme Court ruling striking down Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).

The amendment is cosponsored by Senators Mark Udall (D-CO), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Tammy Baldwin (D-WI).

“No one who has served openly in our military and fought for our country should be denied benefits that they’ve rightfully earned,” Shaheen said. “The Charlie Morgan Act makes sure that we fulfill the commitment we have made to all of our veterans and military families so that finally no spouse, child or family can be denied the care and benefits they deserve.”

"Despite the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark decision to strike down the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act, legally married veterans and their families are still being cut off from the benefits they earned through their service to our nation," Udall said. "This amendment, which I am proud to support, will ensure that our veterans receive the benefits they have earned regardless of whom they are legally married to."

“While we have made great progress in extending the full range of federal benefits to married lesbian and gay couples, there is still uncertainty regarding the equal recognition of all the families of the brave men and women who have served our nation in uniform,” said Allison Herwitt, Vice President for Government Affairs at the Human Rights Campaign. “Senator Shaheen’s bill will honor the memory of Charlie Morgan and ensure that all veteran families get the respect and benefits they deserve.”

“Service members who have protected our country and our freedom should not have to worry that their families will go unprotected and their freedom to marry disrespected by the federal government depending on what state they and their loved ones find themselves in,” said Evan Wolfson, Founder and President of Freedom to Marry. “The Senate should swiftly make this common-sense and overdue correction to assure that all married veterans receive the federal support and respect they deserve, one more necessary step toward fully assuring federal respect for marriage nationwide."  

Shaheen’s amendment honors New Hampshire National Guard Chief Warrant Officer Charlie Morgan who passed away last year after a battle with breast cancer. Morgan’s wife and daughter have not been able to receive certain survivor benefits due to restrictions in the federal code prohibiting the VA from administering benefits.  

The Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee passed the Charlie Morgan Act on a bipartisan voice vote in July. Shaheen’s amendment incorporates the language as approved by the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee and includes a section that specifically amends the definition of “spouse” in the federal code, adding a new definition of “spouse” for the purposes of veteran benefits that recognize new state definition of “spouse.”