Documenting Same-Sex Couples and the Defense of Marriage Act

In Sickness & Health

After returning from deployment, Chief Warrant Officer Charlie Morgan was diagnosed with recurring breast cancer. In May 2012, she received a prognosis of less than six months to live. Now, she is fighting to get veterans benefits for her family. Charlie and Karen are legally married in New Hampshire. However, DOMA prevents the military from granting spousal benefits to same-sex spouses. See more stories at:

Chief Warrant Officer Charlie Morgan passed away on Feb. 10, 2013, after a long battle with breast cancer. Under DOMA, Karen is ineligible to receive her wife’s veteran’s benefits.

Read the prologue from “Personal Courage,” a memoir by Charlie & Karen Morgan:

“So doctor, how much time do I really have?” Dr. Ligabel, the Breast Cancer specialist at Dana Farber in Boston, looked at me and asked.

“Do you really want to know?” I pondered for a moment on why I never thought to ask that question before? I had no clue why I was asking at this point, but now I definitely wanted to know.

“Well, with weekly chemotherapy you could live up to 2 years.”

I asked how long without the chemo and she said, “With this type of cancer usually 8-10 months after diagnosis.” I mentally calculated that 7 months had elapsed and I should have 3 months left. But summer was coming and those could be 3 really good months. Dr. Ligabel left us for a few minutes so that we could discuss the options. I had already told Karen that I would listen to the doctor’s opinion but I didn’t want more chemotherapy.

Dr. Ligabel returned with the paperwork in hand, expecting me to sign up for either a clinical trial or the prescribed chemotherapy. It would seem to be a difficult decision but I knew what I wanted. I just told her straight up that I didn’t want to do either.

She stared at me for a moment and then asked, “Was it something I said?”

I got the impression that my choice was a little unusual. Did people really chose to spend their days in a zombie state too tired, sick and mentally vacant to play with their children or be aware of the life passing them by? Was 2 years like that really equal to a few months lived as fully as possible? Not in my mind.

I was not afraid to die. I’d spent months training for that possibility as a soldier getting ready for deployment. My real fear was of dying slowly and of missing the opportunity to interact with my family, travel and experience as much as possible.

In my mind there really was no choice. Dr. Ligabel handed me her card and told me to call if I changed my mind. I thought about living fully and of everything that we’d done in the last year. I smiled and took the card but knew that I wouldn’t call. I had a life to live!

Images by Amanda Lucidon

Excerpts from “Why This Election Matters to my Family”
Posted on November 6, 2012
by Karen Morgan on

I know that who I will vote for is pretty clear to most people who know me but some folks will not understand why. For our family there is only one choice in this election- to vote any other way would be disaster for us. Issues of health care, marriage equality and women’s rights are often called “political” issues but to my family they are “real life” issues. These are issues that impact our life today- right this very moment.

My spouse is dying of cancer but she is fighting it with the same bravery that caused her to rejoin the military to defend the rights of all citizens in our country.

I am in a committed, 15 year long relationship that is now recognized in my state. We are working to have it recognized on a national level but I am currently unable to receive health care and other benefits through my spouse. My family made the same efforts and sacrifices that any other military family has but we are not treated equally. It is a social and also an economic issue for us and it is just not right. We spend thousands of dollars that other military families don’t have to. For example, I just chipped my tooth the other day and I am underinsured because of our situation. My insurance company denied my request to have it fixed. It affects the way I talk and what I am able to eat. It will cost $1300, paid in advance, for us to have it repaired. That’s $1300 in groceries, or $1300 for children’s needs or $1300 for car repairs that I will not take away from so I am choosing to live with it. This would not be an issue if we were a heterosexual military family. For my family, there is only one voting choice if we want to try to improve our economic situation.

Images by Amanda Lucidon

Talking About Life and Death
Posted on May 5, 2012
by Karen Morgan on

I’ve given a lot of thought to this subject due to our experiences over the last three years. We don’t believe in the traditional concepts of heaven and hell around here so we’ve had to frame what we do believe in terms that are understandable to a 4 year old.

We attend the Unitarian Church and teachings about life and death there center around living the best possible life you can – each day that you’re alive and with whatever tools you’re given. There is no guarantee of a prize in the afterlife so it’s up to us to make our lives here on earth count. To us that means a life filled with service to our family, our community, our country and the environment. It also includes working on recognizing and fulfilling our dreams sooner rather than later. We live with responsibility but also with passion.

Our preschooler is very concerned about what happens to a human or animal body after death so we are honest about burial. We forgo the details and focus on our bodies returning to the earth just as plants and other animals do when they die. We talk about the life cycles of every living thing we encounter so that she has a holistic view of where life comes from and where it goes after death. When our goldfish died last year, my daughter was intent on returning it to the pond, which in her mind, is where all fish come from and would prefer to be.

One thing that I’m very glad we did was start talking to her in advance of actually experiencing the loss of someone close to her. I think it eased the pain of the loss and reduced her confusion. Giving her a chance to say goodbye and be involved in the making of a memorial gave her comfort and a sense of closure but it was also a way to talk about the departed in a positive way. I think that it’s important to experience and process the loss but also to remember the joyful times that we had together. I hope that by being honest about death we will ultimately give my daughter a profound respect for life.