Sen. Inouye, longtime LGBT rights advocate, dies at 88

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U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye has died at 88.

U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye, a war hero, a Hawaiian hero, a civil rights hero, died on Dec. 17. His last word, according to his office, was “aloha.”

A senator since January 1963, Inouye was currently the longest serving senator and was president pro tempore of the Senate, third in the line of presidential succession. AP said his office said he died of respiratory complications at a Washington-area hospital.

In a statement, Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, the nation's largest LGBT civil rights group, said, “Few have done so much for so many as Sen. Daniel Inouye. He distinguished 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. He gave his entire life to serving his fellow citizens.

“LGBT Americans across this country especially honor his unequivocal support for full LGBT equality — most notably, his 1996 vote against the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act, his support for marriage equality and his co-sponsorship of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and other pro-equality legislation. Senator Inouye was a trailblazing leader and he will remain in our memories for standing with his LGBT sisters and brothers from day one. We will miss him, and every American should be grateful to have been touched by the life of this remarkable man.”

Allyson Robinson of Outserve-SLDN, a national advocacy group for LGBT servicemembers, said, “Our condolences go out to the family of Senator Inouye. 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.”

When DADT was repealed, Inouye wrote, “Finally, all brave men and women who want to put on the uniform of our great nation and serve in the armed services may do so without having to hide who they are. …In every war we have had men and women of different sexual orientation who have risked their lives for their country. I fought alongside gay men during World War II and many of them were killed in combat. Those men were heroes. And once again, heroes will be allowed to defend their country, regardless of their sexual orientation.”

Inouye was a World War II hero and Medal of Honor recipient who lost an arm to a German hand grenade during a battle in Italy. He became the first Japanese-American to serve in Congress, when he was elected to the House in 1959, the year Hawaii became a state. He won election to the Senate three years later and served there longer than anyone in U.S. history except Robert Byrd of West Virginia, who died in 2010 after 51 years in the Senate.

Inouye was the last remaining member of the Senate to have voted for the Civil Rights Act of 1964. He was the keynote speaker at the 1968 Democratic National Convention, served on the Senate's select committee on the Watergate scandal and as chairman of the committee that investigated the Iran-Contra arms and money affair, which rocked Ronald Reagan's presidency.

President Barack Obama, in a statement on Dec. 17, said, “Tonight, our country has lost a true American hero with the passing of Sen. Daniel Inouye. The second-longest serving Senator in the history of the chamber, Danny represented the people of Hawaii in Congress from the moment they joined the Union. 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. 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. Our thoughts and prayers are with the Inouye family.”

Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie will appoint a replacement, choosing from three candidates selected by the state Democratic Party.