The bill that, after a struggle, eventually passed the House of Representatives Feb. 10, 1964, and met strong resistance in the Senate, remained on the floor for a 57-day filibuster. Though Ted Kennedy was still recovering from injuries he sustained in a devastating plane crash April 9, 1964, he gave an impassioned speech pleading with members of the Senate to end the filibuster of the Civil Rights Bill.
"My brother was the first president of the United States to state publicly that segregation was morally wrong," Kennedy said. "His heart and his soul are in this bill. 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."
The bill was passed by the Senate several months later and signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson July 2, 1964.
In 1970, Kennedy supported the Voting Rights Act Extension, which essentially lowered the voting age to 18.
"He has a commitment not just to civil rights in any racial or other aspects, but in terms of the forgotten and the outcasts and the dispossessed, that's his instinct," said Frank Mankiewicz, press secretary for then-Sen. Robert F. Kennedy during the 1968 presidential campaign. "Whether it's the 18-year-old vote, or farm workers or ordinary sort of run of the mill civil rights legislation, women's rights, children, it's all there."
Kennedy also came out as a strong supporter of gay rights and women's issues.
"Kennedy is one of the earliest advocates for gay rights," Oliphant, the former Globe reporter, said.
A few instances of Kennedy advocating gay rights include his opposition to the Defense of Marriage Act and the constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, his efforts to gain funding for HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment programs and, most recently, his support for expanding hate crimes to include sexual orientation.
As late as 2007, Kennedy voted to re-introduce the Equal Rights Amendment and ensured access to and funding for contraception. He also supported what many hailed as a women's rights issue by voting against a proposal to end funding for women-owned businesses, among other measures.
Kennedy introduced the Americans With Disabilities Act in 1990. The bill was designed to prohibit employers from discriminating in job hiring and in the workplace against people who had a disability.
"The crowning achievement of these decades of progress was passage of the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990, and its promise of a new and better life for every disabled citizen, in which their disabilities would no longer put an end to their dreams," Kennedy said on the 17th anniversary of the act in 2007. "The Americans With Disabilities Act was an extraordinary milestone in the pursuit of the American dream. Many disability and civil rights leaders in communities throughout the country worked long and hard and well to achieve it."
In 1978, Kennedy co-sponsored Civil Rights Commission Act Amendments, which expanded the jurisdiction of the Civil Rights Commission to protect people from discrimination on the basis of disability.