U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) last night introduced legislation to make additional benefits available to all military spouses and families, regardless of sexual orientation. The Charlie Morgan Military Spouses Equal Treatment Act of 2013 is named after New Hampshire National Guard Chief Warrant Officer Charlie Morgan who passed away earlier this week after a battle with breast cancer. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) is an original co-sponsor of the legislation.
Morgan leaves behind her wife, Karen, who will not be eligible for survivor benefits because of the military's policy on same-sex marriages. After Charlie's diagnosis in 2008, she and her wife spoke repeatedly about how these practices against same-sex couples would devastate their family if Charlie died.
"The story of Charlie Morgan offers a powerful example of why we need immediate action to end LGBT discrimination in our military," said Senator Shaheen. "Charlie served on the front lines for our country, but because of her sexual orientation her family is wrongfully being denied many of the same benefits given to those who stood beside her. That is an unacceptable reality and I'm committed to doing all I can to make sure that no spouses, children and families are denied benefits they have earned and rightly deserve."
"This legislation is an important step forward in achieving full equality for all of our men and women serving and fighting for our nation," said Senator Gillibrand. "Same-sex partners of military servicemembers should not be denied essential benefits because of who they are. We must ensure that all of our military families who have sacrificed so much have access to the services and treatment they need and deserve."
Currently, the Department of Defense and Department of Veterans Affairs are limited in what benefits may be made available to the spouses of same-sex couples. The Charlie Morgan Act would require the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs to honor any marriage that has been recognized by a state and provide a number of key benefits to the spouses of all servicemembers. By allowing for an individual to be considered a "spouse" if their marriage is valid in their state, Shaheen's bill ensures that same-sex military families receive many of the same benefits as heterosexual couples in particular states.
According to the group Outserve Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, there are more than 100 benefits granted to servicemembers, veterans and their families contingent on marital status. The Charlie Morgan Military Spouses Equal Treatment Act of 2013 would extend some of these key benefits, including access to the military health care program (Tricare); funding to allow a servicemember's spouse to accompany them when he or she is assigned to a new duty station, which may otherwise be prohibitively expensive; and surviving compensation for the spouse of a deceased servicemember.
Together, Shaheen and Gillibrand have been vocal advocates calling for the extension of benefits to LGBT service men and women and their families since the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell in 2011. The Senators applauded the decision this week by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to extend a slate of benefits to LGBT military families. Shaheen and Gillibrand sent a letter to Panetta in January urging him to bring the Defense Department benefits of LGBT service up to par with those received by heterosexual couples.