Few Senators draw such strong emotional reactions from folks as Senator Ted Kennedy. He was almost more of an idea than a person. At least to most Americans. He was the Liberal Lion of the Senate who refused to back down or compromise his beliefs. Love him or hate him though, he was more than a metaphor--he was a father, brother, son, husband, uncle and he was a True Patriot. He loved this great nation of ours dearly and dedicated his entire life tirelessly to it. No one was as much of a constant and conspicuous presence on the hallowed floor of our Capitol as Ted Kennedy.
Ted Kennedy passed away at 77 from brain cancer last night in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts--a state he spent the vast majority of his adult life in service of--he was one of only six U.S. Senators to serve more than 40 years.
Kennedy was a ferocious fighter for healthcare and bills that expanded access to American institutions to all Americans. He fought for immigrants, the poor, the unemployed, racial and ethnic minorities, the elderly and children to make more real every day the promise of our nation.
For those of us in the gay community, however, Ted Kennedy's death will leave a huge hole. Few Congressional allies have fought as fiercely for us on the Hill.
It was fitting for Ted Kennedy to accept the Presidential Medal of Freedom in a year in which Harvey Milk and Billy Jean King both also received the honor. Gays and lesbians have always counted Ted Kennedy as an ally. In 1996, Kennedy was one of only a handful of Senators to vote against the Defense of Marriage Act, and an advocate of repealing the act when possible. Kennedy co-sponsored every major LGBT bill that was ever introduced in the Senate--such as the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Bill (on which he was lead sponsor)--and always spoke as our voice in that chamber.
In 2004, while debating the discriminatory Marriage Protection Amendment that would have enshrined hatred of LGBT people in our Constitution, Ted Kennedy said "We all know what this issue is about. It's not about how to protect the sanctity of marriage, or how to deal with activist judges. It's about politics and an attempt to drive a wedge between one group of citizens and the rest of the country, solely for partisan advantage ... The Constitution has never been used as a tool to entrench currently popular views at the expense of an unpopular minority - and it should not be used that way now."
"The promise of America will never be fulfilled as long as justice is denied to even one among us," Kennedy said upon introducing ENDA. "The Employment Non-Discrimination Act brings us closer to fulfilling that promise for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender citizens."
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid sums it up best, "Ted Kennedy's America was one in which all could pursue justice, enjoy equality and know freedom. Ted Kennedy's life was driven by his love of a family that loved him, and his belief in a country that believed in him. Ted Kennedy's dream was the one for which the founding fathers fought and for which his brothers sought to realize... The liberal lion's mighty roar may now fall silent, but his dream shall never die."
Few politicians have fought as hard for the underrepresented as Senator Edward Kennedy. For Kennedy, his work on the Hill wasn't about pleasing donors and lobbyists, but about doing what was right to try to make the American Dream come true for more people. If anyone will be able to fill his vacancy in the Senate, these will be very hard shoes to fill. Ted Kennedy was a class act, all the way, and he will be greatly missed.