Kennedy’s very first speech in the Senate in April 1964 proved an excellent preview for the rest of his political life. Speaking about the civil rights bill, and referencing his brother’s death, he said:
“No memorial oration or eulogy could more eloquently honor President Kennedy’s memory than the earliest possible passage of the civil rights bill for which he fought so long…If his life and death had a meaning, it was that we should not hate but love one another, we should use our powers not to create conditions of oppression that lead to violence, but conditions of freedom that lead to peace.”
Over the years, he accumulated the reputation that served his nickname, the “liberal lion”. He advocated strongly for LGBT rights, long before it was politically fashionable to do so — in fact, he was one of only 14 votes against the so-called “Defense of Marriage Act” in 1996. In 2003, when gay and lesbian couples won the right to legally marry from the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, Kennedy offered this:
“The nation’s eyes were on Massachusetts today, and they saw a triumph for civil rights and fundamental fairness. Today’s historic vote will have a national impact on civil rights for years to come. Massachusetts has led the nation in education, in health care and in biotechnology, and today Massachusetts renewed its commitment as a proud leader in civil rights.”
Health care reform remained one of Kennedy’s hardest sought victories – made plain by his more recent struggles with cancer and his tireless efforts to bring current reform efforts to the American people. In 2008, Kennedy stated that providing health insurance to the estimated 46 million who live without it was the cause of his life.
He fought for what he believed in to his very last days- and his legacy of standing strong against the injustices of the status quo will long be remembered.