U.S. Senator Ted Kennedy, a longtime champion of gay rights, died Tuesday in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts. He had been battling a malignant brain tumor for the past year.

Kennedy was the brother of President John F. Kennedy and former U.S. Attorney General and Senator Robert Kennedy. His sister, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, died earlier this month. Kennedy was the uncle of California First Lady Maria Shriver and an in-law to her husband, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Throughout his political career, Kennedy was a trailblazer among his colleagues in the U.S. Senate, consistently fighting for equality on the behalf of gays and lesbians in the United States.

In 1980, for example, when Kennedy was running for president against incumbent Jimmy Carter, he “endorsed all of the important gay demands,” wrote gay journalist Randy Shilts in his book, Conduct Unbecoming, “including one for an end to discrimination against homosexuals seeking security clearances and those in the military.”

Kennedy lost that presidential bid, but, as Queerty notes, he continued to support gay causes. The Human Rights Campaign, the power house gay rights group, consistently gave him a 100 percent rating for his work in the senate.

Unlike other politicians, Kennedy never wavered in his support of gay marriage, voting against the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act and an anti-gay federal marriage amendment. DOMA was signed into law by President Bill Clinton.

In a January 12, 2005, speech at the National Press Club in Washington D.C., Kennedy said, “On the issue of gay rights,

I continue to strongly support civil marriage. We cannot – and should

not – require any religion or any church to accept gay marriage. But it

is wrong for our civil laws to deny any American the basic right to be

part of a family, to have loved ones with whom to build a future and

share life's joys and tears, and to be free from the stain of bigotry

and discrimination.

Just recently, Kennedy was planning to introduce a bill to repeal “Don't Ask, Don't Tell,” and he was a strong supporter of a federal hate crimes act that would protect gays and lesbians. Gay blogger Joe Jervis wrote this brief tribute to Kennedy:

“This is a tremendous loss for the nation, losing what

many Americans, including myself, consider to have been the greatest

elected official of our lifetimes. We salute you, Mr. Kennedy. Every

gay person in America owes you our everlasting gratitude.”

Contact Patrick Range McDonald at pmcdonald@laweekly.com.

LA Weekly