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Soldier Charlie Morgan dies from breast cancer

Chief Warrant Office Charlie Morgan, right, and her wife Karen relax with their daughter Casey Elena, left, in the living room they were remodeling in the basement of Karen's parents home in New Durham on November 15, 2012. Earlier this year, Morgan stopped receiving chemotherapy for her Stage IV breast cancer and is on convalescence leave from her full-time position in the New Hampshire National Guard. Morgan passed away on Sunday morning. 

(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

Chief Warrant Office Charlie Morgan, right, and her wife Karen relax with their daughter Casey Elena, left, in the living room they were remodeling in the basement of Karen's parents home in New Durham on November 15, 2012. Earlier this year, Morgan stopped receiving chemotherapy for her Stage IV breast cancer and is on convalescence leave from her full-time position in the New Hampshire National Guard. Morgan passed away on Sunday morning. (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

After nearly a year of fighting Stage 4 breast cancer, Charlie Morgan, a member of the New Hampshire National Guard and vocal advocate for the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act, died early yesterday morning. She was 48.

Morgan entered the national spotlight in 2011 by announcing she was a lesbian on MSNBC after the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Until then, she had to keep her wife, Karen Morgan, a secret at the risk of being discharged from the New Hampshire National Guard. Since the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, the Morgans have fought for equality for same-sex military couples, and they sued the Department of Defense with 13 others in October 2011 over the Defense of Marriage Act, which does not legally recognize same-sex marriage. Charlie and Karen entered into a civil union in Vermont in 2000 and converted it into a marriage in New Hampshire in 2011. They have a 5-year-old daughter, Casey Elena.

Charlie was diagnosed with Stage 4 breast cancer in late 2011, after she had already beaten breast cancer once before. In 2008, she had a double mastectomy and underwent chemotherapy. In April, she made the choice not to undergo chemotherapy. The doctors told her she had six months to live – she made it 10. She died at 1:40 a.m. yesterday morning, at the Hyder Family Hospice Home in Dover, said her mother-in-law, Linda Doubleday. Karen was not available for comment yesterday.

Charlie joined the New Hampshire National Guard, in which she was a chief warrant officer, in 2008. She served a one-year deployment in Kuwait from 2010-2011 with the 197th Fires Brigade. Her military background dates back to 1982, when she joined the Army in Kentucky. She served active duty until 1985, then joined the Kentucky National Guard until 1992, one year before Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, became law. After the Sept. 11 attacks, she re-enlisted. That was one year after she entered into a civil union with Karen in Vermont.

The Department of Defense adheres to the Defense of Marriage Act, which means that, right now, Karen will not receive any survivor benefits. That includes the right to be buried next to Charlie in a military cemetery. But in March, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on the case against the Defense of Marriage Act.

Throughout her fight for LGBT rights, Charlie gained the support of Sen. Jeanne Shaheen and Gov. Maggie Hassan, who asked Charlie to lead the Pledge of Allegiance at her inauguration this January.

“Tom and I are deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Chief Warrant Officer Charlie Morgan. A dedicated soldier, wife and mother, her service and sacrifice exemplify what makes America and New Hampshire strong. Her fight for equality will outlive her fight against cancer,” Hassan said in a statement.

When Charlie decided not to have chemotherapy for her cancer the second time around, she and Karen decided to make the most of their remaining time together.

Charlie thought, “I’m going to take that six months and live,” she told the Monitor in November.

That meant a lot of traveling – some trips with a political purpose and others just for fun. They went to Hawaii with an organization called OutServe, took Casey to Disney World, and traveled to Guatemala and Peru. They also went to Washington, D.C., last February to speak with a member House Speaker John Boehner’s staff, and to the White House in June for an LGBT Pride Month event, where Charlie got to speak with President Obama. She also went to New York City to celebrate the one year anniversary of the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell repeal.

In June, Charlie, Karen and Casey moved in with Karen’s parents, Linda and Jack Doubleday, who live in New Durham.

Although Charlie won’t be able to see whether the Supreme Court strikes down DOMA, her commitment to the cause won’t be forgotten.

“Charlie Morgan was an American hero who devoted her life to fighting for LGBT equality,” Shaheen said in a statement. “Her story and struggles underscored exactly why we need to fully repeal DOMA.”

(Kathleen Ronayne can be reached at 369-3309 or
kronayne@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @kronayne.)

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