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Shaheen: We should all be inspired by Charlie Morgan’s commitment to our country and its military families


(Washington, DC) – U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) spoke on the Senate floor today to honor the life of New Hampshire Chief Warrant Officer Charlie Morgan, who passed away earlier this week after a battle with breast cancer. Morgan, a leading advocate for LGBT rights in the military, leaves behind her wife, Karen, and five-year old daughter, Casey Elena. Her family will not be eligible for survivor benefits because of the Defense of Marriage Act.

Below are Shaheen’s remarks, as prepared for delivery:

Mr. President, I rise today with a heavy heart.  Our nation has lost one its outstanding citizens, and many of us have lost a dear friend.  Charlie Morgan, Chief Warrant Officer of the New Hampshire National Guard, passed away early Sunday morning, with her wife Karen and their daughter Casey by her side.  She was just 48 years old. 

For those of us who had the pleasure of knowing Charlie, it has been a difficult week.  However, as I rise today, I take comfort in the opportunity I had to share part of Charlie’s life and work.

Many know Charlie for the national attention she received over the last several years advocating on behalf of fellow gay service members and their families.  However, first and foremost Charlie was a soldier.  She enlisted in the United States Army in 1982.  After a brief period away, Charlie returned to service as a member of the Kentucky National Guard in 1992, one year before the now-repealed “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy became law.  Following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, Charlie returned for a third time, joining the 197th Fires Brigade of the New Hampshire National Guard, a tour that included a year-long deployment 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.  Married to her partner Karen in 2000, Charlie was unable to live openly under the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy.  Despite enduring the same hardships as fellow service members, 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.  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.

Charlie Morgan and her colleagues are an important part of that legacy, and as a direct result of their courageous service, we finally ended the ban on gay service members serving openly in the military.  

Immediately following the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, Charlie made national news as one of the first service members to publically confirm her homosexuality and shed light on many of the remaining inequalities faced by same-sex military families. 

I first met Charlie in 2011.  She contacted my office during her deployment to Kuwait, when she learned that despite the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, her partner of over ten years would not be allowed to attend mandatory National Guard Yellow Ribbon Reintegration programs upon her return.

Yellow Ribbon is a critical National Guard program that helps service members transition to civilian life and work.  Training offered during the several day courses include instructing family on the best ways to identify and assists those suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Traumatic Brain injury (TBI).  I was pleased to work with Secretary Panetta and the New Hampshire National Guard, which has been extremely supportive of Charlie and her family, to ensure that Charlie and Karen would able to participate in the program together.

However, Charlie was not satisfied.  She continued to vigorously pursue equal benefits for same-sex spouses, particularly survivors’ benefits and compensation still denied under the Defense of Marriage Act. 

This was not an abstract issue for Charlie.  In 2011, she was diagnosed for a second time with breast cancer.  Concerned for the future well-being of her family, Charlie took aim at DOMA by challenging its constitutionality in federal court.  Her case is set to be heard by the Supreme Court later this year. 

It is unfortunate that Charlie was unable to see Defense Secretary Panetta’s announcement this week that LBGT service members and their families will now receive all possible Department of Defense benefits allowable under DOMA.  She played an enormous role in bringing awareness to this issue and I think she would have been very pleased to hear the news. 

Several days ago, my office sent out an online condolence card to the Morgan family.  The response from that card has been overwhelming.  In less than a week my office received over 2000 messages of support from citizens all across our country.  I’d like to share a few of those comments.

  • Charlie is a hero to many of us. Thank you for making your lives public so others can live their lives privately in love.
  • I do not know you, but I feel connected in some way, my heart aches at the loss of a fierce hero.
  • Dear Karen and Casey-Your Charlie was a real hero to so many, we will never forget her or you.
  • Unknown: I am so sorry to hear of the passing of Charlie.  She was a true patriot and hero representing the best virtues we must all strive for.  Know that you do not grieve alone and that as long as she lives in your heart she will continue to inspire you to be your best as though she were standing there beside you.
  • Oregon: Thinking you in this time of loss. It is also a loss for our country, but she leaves a legacy that will carry on. 
  • Illinois: Thank you so much Charlie for all you have done.  You will not be forgotten, and your service, work and legacy will live on.  Those of us left behind will honor you by continuing on in this all important fight for equality.
  • Alabama: My heartfelt sympathy for the passing of a great American. God bless
  • Florida: May you both find peace and comfort during this difficult time knowing you wife/mom made the world a better place for people like me.

I hope that Charlie Morgan knew how many lives she touched and how greatly we admired her efforts.  I know that she will be sorely missed, and that her example will continue to guide us well into the future. 

Mr. President, with Charlie’s memory in mind, I will soon be introducing the Charlie Morgan Act.  This bill will end a number of restrictions on benefits for legal spouses of all military service members and veterans, regardless of their sexual orientation.  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.

I am proud of this country’s long-standing commitment to military families.  LGBT service members serve openly in our military and we depend on them to keep us safe.  Denying their legally recognized spouses equal benefit under the law is unjustified, and un-American.

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.