WASHINGTON -- A lesbian National Guardsman -- who is fighting Stage IV breast cancer and who fears time is running out for overturning the Defense of Marriage Act in her lifetime -- learned today she can meet with staff of Speaker of the House John Boehner. Concerned that survivor benefits would be denied her wife if she dies, she hopes to convince staffers that Boehner should drop his plan to defend the law in court.
Chief Warrant Officer 2 Charlie Morgan, a 17-year full-time member of the New Hampshire Army National Guard, has tried for weeks to get a meeting with Boehner or his staff only to be rebuffed. In a letter and a series of emails shared with The Huffington Post, Morgan, 47, stressed that "time is of the essence," given her medical prognosis.
"I want to be able to tell my personal story, to tell him we have similar values when it comes to family and the military," Morgan told HuffPost in a phone interview. "I want him to really look me in the eye and [know] he's hurting my family and so many other families" by defending the Defense of Marriage Act.
Morgan's requests had been stonewalled by Boehner's office until HuffPost reached out to his office for a comment.
“The Speaker’s staff would certainly be willing to meet with Ms. Morgan,” Michael Steel, Boehner's spokesman, emailed HuffPost today.
Zeke Stokes of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network said Boehner's office called her to schedule a meeting shortly after the arrival of HuffPost's email. He said Morgan is working to find an appropriate time to travel to Washington from her home in New Hampshire. The Servicemembers Legal Defense Network filed a lawsuit in October on behalf of Morgan and seven other members of the military in an effort to overturn DOMA.
"After much delay and a previous denial, she was thrilled to hear from Speaker Boehner's office and looks forward to traveling to DC to tell her story as soon as possible," Stokes emailed.
Morgan's situation illustrates how despite the end of the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy in September, the ability to serve openly remains a hollow victory.
The Defense of Marriage Act prevents the federal government from recognizing same sex marriages where they are legal. This deprives those in same sex marriages the same military housing, medical, education and other benefits provided to their straight counterparts.
Since the "don't ask, don't tell" policy vanished, members of the military and veterans have brought a growing number of challenges of DOMA. On Wednesday, the Southern Poverty Law Center sued the Department of Veterans Affairs over its denial of disability benefits to the same sex spouse of an Army veteran diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.
Charlie and Karen Morgan married in New Hampshire in October a decade after they entered into a civil union in Vermont during a break in Charlie's military service. Karen is a stay-at-home mom to their daughter Casey Elena, 4. Although Casey Elena, as Charlie's dependent, is eligible for health care and other privileges, Karen is not.
The family's sole breadwinner, Charlie Morgan said because of DOMA, Karen will not receive survivor's benefits, Social Security or health care coverage "should I not survive this bout with cancer." The Servicemembers Legal Defense Network has estimated the value of lost lifetime benefits to Karen at nearly $300,000.
Morgan was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2008 and underwent a double mastectomy and several rounds of chemotherapy. After she was declared cancer-free, she was deployed to Kuwait for a year. In September, she learned the cancer had spread to her lymph nodes and chest, and doctors told her the disease was incurable. She starts a new round of chemotherapy Friday.
Such disparities were behind the Obama administration's decision nearly a year ago not to defend the constitutionality of DOMA in court, Attorney General Eric Holder said at the time. Angry House leaders, led by Boehner, said they would defend DOMA and Republicans set aside as much as $1.5 million to defend the law.
It was Boehner's role in the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group formed to keep DOMA alive that prompted Morgan to request meeting with him. She told HuffPost she wanted to tell the leader about how survivor's benefits -- unavailable to Karen -- had supported her mother when her father died in a car accident while on active duty waiting to deploy to Vietnam when Charlie was 3.
In a letter to Boehner dated Dec. 23, Charlie Morgan wrote, "Mr. Speaker, as a member of the Active Guard, I laid my life on the line for my country, and now I need my country to protect and care for my family. My wife and daughter face an uncertain future, unable to receive the same family support services as our counterparts who render the same service, take the same risks, and make the same sacrifices."
Hearing nothing, she followed up with a Jan. 10 email. Less than two hours after she sent it, Boehner's scheduler turned her down, citing his "demanding schedule" and referring her to the speaker's assistant for policy, George Rogers.
Morgan called Rogers but was put on hold before getting a message that the office was closed. More emails followed before she was told to contact her local congressman, Rep. Frank Guinta (R-N.H.), even though the issue she wanted to discuss related to a decision by House leadership.
Despite numerous follow-up attempts, Morgan heard nothing after Jan. 18 -- until HuffPost inquired about why Boehner's staff would not give her an appointment.
Morgan says she intends to beat her cancer but is also "a realist." She added, "That’s the part of me stepping up. If I don’t make it, I've got to make sure they are taken care of," she said of her family members. "We just want to put a face to this issue."
Read Morgan's letter to Boehner here.