Edward Kennedy, a U.S. senator from Massachusetts for more than 40 years, passed away early Wednesday morning after year-long battle with brain cancer.
The youngest of nine children, Kennedy’s father was ambassador to Great Britain. His brother, John Kennedy, became president and was assassinated in 1963. Another, Robert Kennedy, was attorney general and was also assassinated during his 1968 campaign for the White House.
Kennedy was a steadfast supporter of LGBT equality. He was one of only 14 senators to vote against the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act. In 2004, he opposed a federal constitutional amendment on marriage. He has been the chief sponsor of employment non-discrimination legislation inclusive of gender-identity protections, as well as hate crimes legislation.
In a statement, President Barack Obama called Kennedy’s death the end of an era.
For five decades, virtually every major piece of legislation to advance the civil rights, health and economic well being of the American people bore his name and resulted from his efforts,” Obama said. “An important chapter in our history has come to an end. Our country has lost a great leader, who picked up the torch of his fallen brothers and became the greatest United States Senator of our time.”
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“The Kennedy name is synonymous with the Democratic Party,” Obama said at a press briefing this morning. “The extraordinary good that he did lives on,” he added.
Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese called Kennedy a the nation’s “greatest champion” and said the community’s loss in Kennedy’s death is “immeasurable.”
“There was no greater hero for advocates of LGBT equality than Senator Ted Kennedy,” Solmonese said. “From the early days of the AIDS epidemic , to our current struggle for marriage equality he has been our protector, our leader, our friend. He has been the core of the unfinished quest for civil rights in this country and there is now a very painful void. Our hearts go out to the Kennedy family.”
Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, said Kennedy’s legacy will long outlive his life here. “Senator Kennedy was unmatched in his compassion and in his willingness to stand with those who often lacked a champion,” she said. “Even after his death, his vision will inspire generations to work for the health, welfare and equality for all he so doggedly pursued.”
The legendary political icon’s death leaves a void in the U.S. Senate. Democrats had attained a 60-seat majority. His replacement will be chosen by special election in five months.