The passing of Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) was a somber moment for LGBT advocates as they remembered him for being among 14 senators to vote against the Defense of Marriage Act and his early advocacy for “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal.
On Monday, Inouye’s office confirmed the senator died of respiratory complications at 5:01 p.m. at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. The senior senator from Hawaii, Inouye was a World War II veteran and a recipient of the Medal of Honor. According to his office, the senator’s last words were “Aloha.”
A senator since 1963, Inouye was the most senior member of the U.S. Senate and served as president pro tempore. That distinction will now be given to Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), which makes him third in line to succeed the presidency. The 88-year-old senator was the second longest to serve in the U.S. Senate after the late Sen. Robert Byrd of West Virginia.
In a statement, President Obama commended Inouye for his lifelong work as a public servant — noting that his contribution to the war effort cost him his right arm.
“In Washington, he worked to strengthen our military, forge bipartisan consensus, and hold those of us in government accountable to the people we were elected to serve,” Obama said. “But it was his incredible bravery during World War II – including one heroic effort that cost him his arm but earned him the Medal of Honor – that made Danny not just a colleague and a mentor, but someone revered by all of us lucky enough to know him.”
Inouye’s arm was mutilated in 1945 during military operations in Italy and had to be amputated without anesthetic. It was deemed Inouye had already been given too much morphine at an aid station prior to the procedure.
A supporter of marriage equality, Inouye was a co-sponsor of the Respect for Marriage Act, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, the Student Non-Discrimination Act and the Uniting American Families Act. His support for the LGBT community goes back to 1996, when he was among 14 senators to vote against the Defense of Marriage Act.
Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, praised Inouye not only for the senator’s work on LGBT advocacy, but also for distinguishing himself “in everything he set his mind to — from his heroic service in World War II to his historic tenure and record of accomplishment in the U.S. Senate.”
“Sen. Inouye was a trailblazing leader and he will remain in our memories for standing with his LGBT sisters and brothers from day one,” Griffin said. “We will miss him, and every American should be grateful to have been touched by the life of this remarkable man.”
Following President Obama’s announcement in May in favor of marriage equality, Inouye announced he shares Obama’s support for marriage rights for gay couples.
“I am very pleased that the president affirmed his support for marriage equality,” Inouye said. “I think everyone who wishes to enter into marriage and start a life together should be allowed to do so, regardless of sexual orientation. How can we call ourselves the land of the free, if we do not permit people who love one another to get married? I look forward to working with the president to ensure his position on marriage equality becomes law in this country.”
Inouye was also known for being an early advocate of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal even before the legislative effort to repeal the law was off the ground. In 2009, Inouye delivered the keynote speech at the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network’s annual dinner.
Allyson Robinson, executive director of OutServe-SLDN, commended Inouye for his commitment to repeal the military’s gay ban.
“Tonight our condolences go out to the family of Senator Inouye,” Robinson said. “He will be remembered for many things, but here at OutServe-SLDN, we will remember him above all as an advocate for fairness and equality, becoming a key supporter of the movement to repeal the discriminatory ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ law when the chips were down and it mattered the most.”
Scott Larimer, co-chair of Equality Hawaii, also praised Inouye for his commitment to Hawaii’s LGBT community, saying the late senator has “long been a beacon of hope for those who endured ridicule and retribution for being different.”
“Our hearts go out to his family, friends and all people of Hawaii,” Larimer said. “His tireless advocacy for the civil rights of all people will always be remembered, and his legacy of fairness and equality will endure the test of time. He has been a stalwart in the Senate and shining example of the best an elected official has to offer. He will be greatly missed.”
UPDATE: Gay Congressman-elect Mark Takano of California, who’s candidacy was endorsed by Inouye, issued the following statement to the Washington Blade upon news of the senator’s death:
“I was saddened to learn of the passing of Senator Daniel Inouye today, who has exemplified the meaning of public service for over 70 years. First, as a part of the Nisei 442nd Infantry Battalion during World War II where he showed his heroism, then as a member of Congress where he represented the people of Hawaii for decades.
“Senator Inouye served as a role model for countless Japanese Americans, like myself, and it was one of my greatest honors to have his support earlier this year as he departed from tradition and endorsed my candidacy for the House of Representatives before the primary had been decided — knowing very well that I was seeking to become the first LGBT person of color to enter Congress. For many years, I’ve admired his fundamental sense of fairness, as he invoked his status as a decorated veteran of WWII to support the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and was a strong voice in opposition to the Defense of Marriage Act long before the recent turn in public opinion.
“We have lost yet another great man, who hails from our greatest generation.
“My condolences go out to his wife Irene, and the rest of his family during this difficult time.”