By Pat Gozemba
Ted Kennedy, a champion of so many causes for equality for such diverse communities, is gone. But his legacy and example will continue to inspire many of us for years to come.
On November 18, 2003, when the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled in favor of marriage equality in the Goodridge v DPH decision, Kennedy was one of the first voices to speak out and laud the decision. In Courting Equality we captured that moment. “Senator Edward Kennedy greeted the Goodridge decision as ‘a welcome milestone on the road to full civil rights for all our citizens.’” He added emphatically, “Gay couples deserve these rights as well” (p. 22)
While a Catholic, he saw the problems with that faith’s discrimination against LGBT people. Like his brother, John F. Kennedy, and the founders of this country, he understood that religion has no place in government.
As the Goodridge decision captured the imaginations of LGBT people across the country to strive for the equality newly granted in Massachusetts, religion-driven conservatives threw up roadblocks in state after state. Claiming that our equality impinged on their religious values, these cultural conservatives held enormous sway. Despite their acrimonious uproar about marriage equality, Kennedy stuck with his principled position.
In 2005, he said “On the issue of gay rights, I continue to strongly support civil marriage. 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.” Kennedy brought the values of Massachusetts to the national stage.
He was one of the few who voted in the Senate against DOMA (the Defense of Marriage Act) in 1996. And sometimes in the Senate he pushed values that Massachusetts had not quite caught up with like a transgender-inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA).
A great champion for LGBT people is gone. The person who will attempt to fill his shoes must be as committed to equality.