Kennedy, who became known as "the liberal lion of the Senate" over the 47 years he served in the chamber, scored a 100 percent rating from the Human Rights Campaign, introducing historic pieces of pro-LGBT legislation and making critical votes. He was one of only 14 senators who voted against the 1996 Defense of Marriage of Act that prohibits the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages.
During the unsuccessful attempt by conservatives to pass the 2004 Federal Marriage Amendment constitutionally banning same-sex marriage, Kennedy said from the Senate floor, "We all know what this issue is about. It's not about how to protect the sanctity of marriage, or how to deal with activist judges. It's about politics and an attempt to drive a wedge between one group of citizens and the rest of the country, solely for partisan advantage ... The Constitution has never been used as a tool to entrench currently popular views at the expense of an unpopular minority – and it should not be used that way now."
Among his slate of progressive legislative sponsorships, Kennedy pushed such bills as the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act and the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA).
In 2007, he introduced the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Act, which passed as an amendment to the Defense Department reauthorization bill but was eventually dropped from the legislation after President George W. Bush threatened to veto it. Kennedy reintroduced the measure this year with 45 cosponsors and again it was attached as an amendment to the 2010 defense appropriations legislation, which must be reconciled with the House version of the bill before being sent to President Obama's desk.
Kennedy also introduced ENDA in 2007 after the House legislation went through a tumultuous journey that ultimately stripped it of protections for transgender individuals. This year, he and lead senate sponsors Jeff Merkeley, Olympia Snowe, and Susan Collins, reintroduced the legislation, which became the first transgender-inclusive bill in the senate's history.
"We had no greater hero in Congress," said David Smith, vice president of programs for HRC who also worked for Kennedy as communications director for a little over a year. "His loss is stunning; he's not replaceable."