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Shaheen, Gillibrand Introduce Charlie Morgan Act to Address Benefit Equity

For immediate release:
Friday, February 15, 2013

Contact: Zeke Stokes at
(202) 621-5406 or zeke@outserve-sldn.org

Shaheen, Gillibrand Introduce Military Equality Bill Named for CW2 Charlie Morgan
Senate Version of Military Spouses Equal Treatment Act Would Equalize Benefits, Support for All Military Families

(Washington, DC) Army Veteran and OutServe-SLDN Executive Director Allyson Robinson today applauded the introduction of the Charlie Morgan Military Spouses Equal Treatment Act of 2013, the Senate companion bill to the Military Spouses Equal Treatment Act of 2013 (MSET) - introduced in the U.S. House Thursday by Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA) - that would change the definition of "spouse" in four areas of U.S. Code related to recognition, support, and benefits for married service members and veterans. The changes - including to provisions in Titles 10, 32, and 38 that are challenged in OutServe-SLDN's landmark litigation, McLaughlin v. U.S., filed in October 2011 - would ensure that spouses of the same gender are eligible for key military benefits. The Senate bill was introduced by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) with lead co-sponsor Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) in honor of Chief Warrant Officer Charlie Morgan of the New Hampshire National Guard, who passed away this week following a long fight with cancer during which she became a national advocate for LGBT military equality.

"Since the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ there have been two classes of service members in this country - one that receives the nation’s full recognition, support and benefits and one that does not. By making an arbitrary distinction between gay and lesbian troops and their straight comrades, and forcing commanders to play favorites, the law as it stands harms all service members and weakens the force. This legislation fixes that problem and honors the legacy of Charlie Morgan, who made this her life's work even as she fought for her own health over these last two years," said Robinson.

Morgan came out on MSNBC on the September 20, 2011, the day of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' repeal, and became a nationally recognized advocate against the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which bars her wife, Karen, from receiving military, Social Security and other benefits to help her care for their five-year-old daughter Casey Elena. The Morgans are plaintiffs in a lawsuit brought by OutServe-SLDN in October 2011 challenging DOMA and other federal statutes that prevent the military from providing equal recognition and support to same-sex military spouses. Currently, the Morgans do not receive the same protections as their straight, married peers, and Karen is not entitled to survivor's benefits following CW2 Morgan's death.

CW2 Morgan also drew national support in February 2012 when she visited Capitol Hill to meet with the staff of Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) to tell her personal story and share how the Speaker's ongoing legal defense of DOMA via the House Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group (BLAG) harms her family. There, she detailed her battle with incurable stage-four breast cancer and asked the Speaker to drop his legal defense of DOMA. Boehner ignored her pleas and continues to defend the discriminatory law in court.

Robinson said today that the changes the bill makes to U.S. law would still be necessary even if the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) were to be struck down or repealed, because they address entirely separate laws governing support and benefits for military members and veterans.

In addition to the titles challenged by OutServe-SLDN's court case, the bill adds a favorable controlling definition of "spouse" to Title 37 to provide greater uniformity of benefits for same-sex spouses. Taken together, It would extend dozens of important spousal benefits and support programs to same-gender spouses, including coverage under TriCare insurance, an increased housing allowance and survivor benefits - and close some of the gaps left after the Pentagon’s limited extension of benefits announced earlier this week.

“Treating service members equally, without partiality or favoritism, is one of the most basic principles of sound military leadership,” said Robinson. “For this reason, equality for LGBT troops and their families is a national security issue. Commanders should not be forced to treat some service members like second-class citizens because the federal government does not recognize their marriages. Today, we thank Senator Shaheen for taking this crucial step to strengthen our military, and we urge her colleagues in both parties and in both houses of Congress to join her and us in this important fight," said Robinson.

Robinson attended Morgan's memorial service in Portsmouth, NH yesterday.

ABOUT OUTSERVE-SLDN: OutServe-SLDN is the association of actively serving LGBT military personnel with more than fifty chapters and 6000 members around the world It works to support a professional network of LGBT military personnel and create an environment of respect in the military with regard to sexual orientation and gender identity. It is a non-partisan, non-profit, legal services and policy organization dedicated to bringing about full LGBT equality to America's military and ending all forms of discrimination and harassment of military personnel on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. OS-SLDN provides free and direct legal assistance to service members and veterans affected by the repealed "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" law and the prior regulatory ban on open service, as well as those currently serving who may experience harassment or discrimination. For more information, visit www.outserve-sldn.org.

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