A stalwart champion of LGBT rights and the last member of the Kennedy family to serve in Congress announced on Friday plans to retire at the end of this year as a U.S. House member.
In a two-minute video, Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I.), the son of the late Edward Kennedy, says he won’t seek re-election, recalling his father’s “deep commitment to public service” as he explains his decision.
“Now, having spent two decades in politics, my life is taking a new direction, and I will not be a candidate for reelection this year,” he says.
First elected to the U.S. House in 1994, Kennedy has been a steadfast supporter of the LGBT community. In 1996, he was among 67 House members to vote against the Defense of Marriage Act. He also voted against the Federal Marriage Amendment in 2004 and 2006.
Kennedy has co-sponsored hate crimes protections bills since at least 2001, and voted in favor of passing the legislation in 2007 and 2009. Kennedy has also co-sponsored versions of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act since his first year in Congress and voted for the bill in 2007.
The lawmaker has co-sponsored numerous other pro-LGBT bills, including the Uniting American Families Act and the Domestic Partnership Benefits & Obligations Act as well as legislation that would repeal DOMA and “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
A supporter of same-sex marriage, Kennedy voiced his support for marriage rights for same-sex couples in a statement when he announced in 2008 he would be a founding member of the LGBT Equality Caucus.
“Discrimination against any individual because of their sexual orientation or gender identity is simply unacceptable,” he said at the time. “That’s why I’m so proud to be a founding member of this caucus. The LGBT Equality Caucus will provide a crucial platform in our fight for comprehensive hate crimes legislation, marriage equality and an end to workplace discrimination. At this point in history, we have a unique opportunity to advance the cause of equality.”
An anonymous source close to Kennedy told the Politico the lawmaker has been thinking about retirement for about a year and the death of his father last year had a significant impact on him. Kennedy also has a history of substance abuse problems, and checked himself into a rehab facility in 2006 and 2009.
Had he stayed in Congress, Kennedy may have faced difficulties in winning re-election. A recent poll found 56 percent of voters in his district viewed him unfavorably and only 35 percent said they would re-elect him, according to the Politico.
While he never faced a serious Republican opponent in his Democratic district, he could have had a tough challenger this year. According to the Politico, the GOP is poised to nominate John Loughlin, an Army veteran and Rhode Island State House member who has had notable success in fundraising.