Karen Morgan knows that times are toughest for her 5-year-old daughter in the morning, when she's going to the bus en route to kindergarten, and then at bedtime. Those were the special times together for young Casey and Morgan's longtime partner, Charlie.
Charlie Morgan, a chief warrant officer in the New Hampshire Army National Guard who fought against the federal law that barred her wife, Karen, from receiving benefits to help care for Casey, died on Feb. 10. She was 48. The couple had received a civil union in Vermont in 2001 then, after the repeal of military's Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy in 2011, they were married in New Hampshire in October 2011.
"Casey has done well, though she misses [Charlie] terribly," Karen said in a phone interview. "[Casey] is very resilient, and I'm doing everything I can so she has a good memory of Charlie, and what Charlie and I thought was important, [including] our fight for gay families in the military. I want her to carry forward that sense of justice and fairnessand I feel that's the legacy that Charlie will leave to Casey, and also to a lot of people.
"Overall, Casey is doing OK. She just really misses [Charlie] around those times."
Karen and Charlie were together for 16 years, fighting the endless battles facing same-sex military families. Charlie ultimately died at a hospice after a battle with breast cancer.
Karen has been working part-time as a special education teacher, and also supports and promotes OutServe-SLDN.
"A lot of what I've been doing centers around educating people about what our family is like, what we live with on a day to day basis, how we're similar yet different than other families because gay families do have challenges that heterosexual families don't have," Karen said. "Dealing with losing Charlie has been hard. She was my best friend. When she died, there were a whole set of challenges that I didn't anticipateand they had to do with navigating a lot of paperwork. In a way, my grieving was cut short by dealing with some of the [military] things I had to deal with, while also making sure Casey was taken care of.
"Because of the state of federal law at this point, I couldn't really be recognized as next of kin for Charlie, even though it was very clearly designated in her paperwork that that's what she wanted."
Clearly, Karen said, the Defense Of Marriage Act (DOMA) has greatly impacted her family, and many other gay families, too, in a similar way.
"I am optimistic that things will change [with DOMA]," Karen said. "Through education and social change, people become increasingly aware of the inequalities, and a lot of people think they are not right, not fair. So I think things will change, though I don't know how soon, or even when."
Karen said the past few weeks have truly been "emotional" due to all of the seemingly nonstop mainstream media news about DOMA and other high-profile gay topics.
"I know Charlie would have loved to have been here to see that, to see the cases go to the Supreme Court, and know that things are changing. So it's bitter sweet," Karen said. "We're making progress and moving forward, though there's a lot of work left to be done, and I intend to stay on this track in Charlie's memory, and for all of those other families that might not be able to speak out for any number of reasons."
Karen and Charlie went to Boston in September 2011, to celebrate the end of Don't Ask Don't Tell, "which had a big impact on our lives," Karen said. "Charlie served proudly for many years, but she couldn't be who she really was."
In fact, as Karen noted, Charlie wasn't even able to have a photo of her family on her desk at work out of fear she might lose her job.
"That was one of the simplest things that meant the most to her," Karen said.
Shortly after DADT was repealed, Charlie learned she had a re-occurrence of breast cancer.
"She really wanted to help everyone, and the best way we could do that is by telling our story," Karen said. "I think there's a definite feeling of change right now. More and more people are expressing support, and I think that's great. I think that's coming from education. I'm really glad it's happening."