By DENISE LAVOIE (AP) – August 26, 2009
BOSTON — For decades, Edward Kennedy was considered the most powerful voice in the Senate for gay rights as a strong supporter of HIV/AIDS funding, hate crimes legislation and same-sex marriage.
His death struck a blow to gay rights advocates, who say they've lost a key ally.
"Having somebody in the Senate who was never afraid to stand up and say, 'This is the right thing to do' lifted all of our spirits and made all lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people know that there was hope," said Chuck Wolfe, president of the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, a political action committee.
Kennedy was an early advocate for AIDS research and treatment, securing federal funding so patients could have easier access to experimental drugs, expanded home care and outpatient mental health care.
In 1996, he was one of only 14 senators who voted against the Defense of Marriage Act, which bars the federal government from recognizing gay unions. He also was a leading supporter of gay marriage in his home state of Massachusetts, which was the first to legalize same-sex marriage in 2004.