A Flag for a Fallen Soldier, but Not for Her Wife

NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 18:  Chief Warrant Officer Charlie Morgan of NH national guard attends the 2012 Celebrating Our Hero
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 18: Chief Warrant Officer Charlie Morgan of NH national guard attends the 2012 Celebrating Our Heroes: A Tribute To America's Service Members & Veterans at the Intrepid Sea-Air-Space Museum on September 18, 2012 in New York City. (Photo by Ben Hider/Getty Images)

I have a flag that I'm technically not allowed to have. It's the flag that was draped over my wife's coffin at her funeral on Feb. 10. It is military custom to personally and proudly present that flag to the spouse of a fallen soldier, but because my wife, CW2 Charlie Morgan of the New Hampshire National Guard, was married to a woman instead of to a man, our marriage doesn't exist in the eyes of the government that she served for 17 years.

Charlie was an amazing wife, mother and soldier who died in February after a five-year battle with metastatic breast cancer. But in our 16 years together, cancer wasn't the only battle that we fought. Even as Charlie served her country, we lived as a family in hiding, with the discriminatory "don't ask, don't tell" policy hanging over our every move. It was only when DADT was lifted in 2010 that we could safely be a family in the eyes of the military and make the public promise of marriage to each other.

But our short-lived celebration quickly came to a halt when we realized that the federal Defense of Marriage Act still prohibited the military from acknowledging both our 10-year civil union and our legal New Hampshire marriage. It dawned on us that if Charlie were to lose her battle with cancer, I would not be viewed as her wife. I would not be assured the financial protections that military spouses depend on in the wake of losing a life partner.

I was terrified. I couldn't stop worrying about what this meant for our 5-year-old daughter, Casey Elena. Charlie was a soldier in every sense of the word, and she fought her final battle ferociously so that others wouldn't have to go through that same pain. In the end, cancer claimed Charlie before the battle was won.

Now I keep fighting in her memory. In March, just weeks after losing my wife, I watched with tears in my eyes as the cases against both DOMA and California's Proposition 8 made their way to the Supreme Court of the United States. I had that strength only because of Charlie. She dedicated her life to her country and her family, and before she died, she made me promise never to give up.

Since Charlie's death, I have applied and been rejected for survivorship benefits, such as VA and Social Security benefits that would have automatically been available to a heterosexual spouse. I do not have access to the health insurance that heterosexual spouses have when their loved one dies on active duty. When I die, I will not be allowed to be buried beside my wife in the veterans' cemetery.

Facing this future as a second-class citizen, I desperately hope that the Supreme Court will bring equality to all gay families and strike down DOMA. It haunts almost every aspect of our lives, and it doesn't measure up to the litmus test of freedom and equality that we've set as a standard for our way of life in the United States. It's time for freedom and justice to prevail, and for those who purport to stand for those values to apply them fairly to all the citizens of our country.