Former Sen. Arlen Specter (D-PA) died Sunday, from complications of non-Hodgkins Lymphoma. The Democrat-turned Republican-turned Democrat was the longest serving U.S. senator in Pennsylvania history.
While some of his earlier votes were not supportive of the LGBT community — including supporting the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in 1996, a 2004 marriage inequality constitutional amendment, and confirmation of anti-LGBT Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas — by the end of his his career he had become a strong and consistent ally for LGBT equality.
Specter’s Human Rights Campaign score steadily increased over his final Senate term, from 67 percent in the 109th Congress, to 70 percent in the 110th, all they way to 96 percent in the 111th Congress. In his final two years in the Senate, he co-sponsored the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, and Don’t Ask Don’t Tell repeal. He also called for repeal of DOMA, dubbing it “a relic of a more tradition-bound time and culture,” and “one step among several designed to fully integrate and protect the rights of gays and lesbians in American society.”
In February, then-former Sen. Specter announced that he could not support his former Senate colleague Rick Santorum (R-PA) in his presidential campaign. His stated reason: “with his attitude on women in the workplace and gays and the bestiality comments and birth control, I do not think it is realistic for Rick Santorum to represent America.”
LGBT leaders across the political spectrum remembered Specter as a moderate whose support for LGBT issues grew over time. Like the nation as a whole, Specter evolved toward supporting inclusion and equality.