With Kennedy, 'justice for all' meant gays and lesbians, too
Real heroes are hard to find, but with Teddy, we had one
But Kennedy’s advocacy didn’t stop there, far from it. He was one of only 14 senators who voted against the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in 1996. And when the Matthew Shepard nondiscrimination bill eventually passes, it will be because of Kennedy that for the first time sexual orientation and gender will be part of a U.S. Civil Rights Code.
The truth is Kennedy’s advocacy involved every civil rights movement in America: he fought for working people, for people of color, for children, women, LGBT people, immigrants, people with disabilities, people living with HIV/AIDS and so many others who looked to his leadership for a more just society.
For his advocacy on gay issues Kennedy was given a rare 100% approval rating by the Human Rights Commission (HRC). Yesterday HRC president Joe Solmonese said: “The nation has lost its greatest champion and strongest voice for justice, fairness, and compassion. The loss to our community is immeasurable. There was no greater hero for advocates of LGBT equality than Senator Ted Kennedy. 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.”
Kennedy fought for the rights of people living with HIV/AIDS, he was a co-sponsor of every piece of hate crimes legislation covering sexual orientation or gender identity considered by the Senate; he fought for immigration rights for foreign born partners of gay American citizens; he supported the repeal of the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell military gay ban; he supported full marriage equality; he was the lead sponsor of each Employment Non-Discrimination Act introduced in the Senate and he opposed every attempt to codify anti-gay bigotry in education and law that he ever encountered.
Asked in 2007 why he supported including sexual orientation on the employment non-discrimination act, he replied: “America stands for justice for all. Congress must make clear that when we say “all” we mean all. America will never be America until we do.”
Without fanfare or hope of reward, Kennedy was ever and always the fierce — and fearless — advocate on gay rights that President Barack Obama claims to be. Here’s hoping that his legacy will inspire the same fearlessness in the Democratic Party today.
But Kennedy's loss is irreplaceable. He will be sorely missed.