In June 2006, Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA) spoke at a news conference organized by the Human Rights Campaign against the Federal Marriage Amendment, on which the Senate would vote the next day. The energy level of the assembled civil rights leaders and reporters jumped when Kennedy arrived, walking slowly and stooped from the painful back that was injured in a plane crash four decades earlier.
Kennedy expressed pride in the human rights legacy of the Massachusetts state constitution, and in the Goodridge decision that carried it forward. His presence that day, along with Rep. John Lewis (D-GA), was a big deal; it conveyed, even before they spoke, that we had the most respected figures in the House and Senate on our side.
Ted was the only one of four Kennedy brothers who lived to see his hair turn gray, who died of natural causes. For those of us old enough to remember the national trauma of the 1960s, it was a comfort watching him grow older. His appearance last summer at the Democratic National Convention to pass the torch to the junior senator from Illinois crystallized decades of liberal advocacy of which his support for LGBT equality was only a part.
The legacy of Kennedy’s 47 years in the Senate ranges from health insurance for millions of children to a national holiday honoring Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. His lifelong commitment to health care will loom over Congress as it reconvenes and moves into the final push for health care reform. There isn’t a soul, however, who wouldn’t much prefer his vigorous presence in the midst of the fight, the lion of the Senate steering the legislation to passage.
For the moment, I recall Kennedy's statement against FMA in June 2006:
Supporters of the Federal Marriage Amendment claim the need to stop activist judges. Our colleagues should recall the words of another activist court:
“The freedom to marry has long been recognized as one of the most vital personal property rights essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness.”
The activist judges stating this fundamental belief were part of the Supreme Court’s 1967 decision in the landmark case Loving v. Virginia, which held that marriage is a basic civil right, and that freedom to marry a person of another race may not be restricted by racial discrimination.
Now, nearly forty years later, I urge the Senate not to turn back the clock on this progress, or start writing discrimination into our country’s most cherished document.
The vote that week was one of his many victories. Rest in peace, Senator.