Sen. Ted Kennedy, longtime advocate for LGBT issues, dead at 77

Massachusetts Sen. Edward Kennedy, the patriarch of the first family of Democratic politics, died shortly before Midnight Tuesday at his home in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts. He was 77.

The man known as the “liberal lion of the Senate” had fought a more than year-long battle with brain cancer, and according to his son had lived longer with the disease than his doctors expected him to.

Kennedy will be remembered as one of the most powerful and influential senators in American history and one of three brothers whose political triumphs and personal tragedies captivated the nation for decades, and as one of the most effective lawmakers in the history of the Senate. He served through five of the most dramatic decades of the nation’s history, including the assassinations of his brothers, President John F. Kennedy and Sen. Robert F. Kennedy.

Kennedy’s advocacy for LGBT issues stretches back to the height of the HIV epidemic. The Ryan White Care Act, the largest federally funded program for people living with HIV/AIDS, would not exist if Kennedy did not introduce and usher it through Congress in 1990.

He voted against the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996, and had been a lead sponsor of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would protect LGBTs in the workplace, since its first introduction in Congress in 1994.

Kennedy has long favored providing benefits to domestic partners of federal employees, which President Obama extended through an executive order in June. He has spoken out against Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, and for many years has fought in support of the Matthew Shepard Act, which would add sexual orientation and gender identity to the list of federally recognized hate crimes. Named for the gay student who was tortured and murdered in Wyoming in 1998, the legislation may soon become law; the U.S. House of Representatives passed the bill earlier this year, and Kennedy again introduced bill in Senate, and the Judiciary Committee held a hearing in June.

Kennedy was influential at the highest levels of government through his final days. He was diagnosed with an incurable brain tumor in May 2008, becoming ill just as Democrats were again coming to power with majorities in Congress and a president who admired and respected him. He served almost 47 years in the Senate, the the third-longest serving senator in the chamber’s history.

In July, President Obama awarded Kennedy the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor.

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