Conservatives: We Disagree with Kennedy, but Respect His Passion

WASHINGTON – When Edward "Ted" Kennedy (D-Mass.) was alive, conservatives would find it almost unthinkable to praise the man considered a liberal icon. But with Kennedy's death on Tuesday, his former foes have softened and paid tribute to the man.

"I join my colleagues in paying our respects to the legacy of Sen. Edward Kennedy," said Ken Blackwell, senior fellow for family empowerment at Family Research Council, on Wednesday. "Sen. Kennedy brought a passion to the debate in the public square for those issues that he thought were most important to the quality of life in our nation."

"Even when we disagree with the policy position of Sen. Kennedy, none of us can doubt the passion that he brought to the debate," said Blackwell, who was the former Republican Ohio Secretary of State.

Among the issues Kennedy is credited in raising is health care reform, which now after his death is the closest to being translated into laws.

"I must give him credit for elevating the issue of health care reform to the most prominent issue in the public square debate today," said Blackwell, who was speaking at a health care reform press conference.

Similarly, Ed Rollins, a White House political director for President Reagan and former chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, called Kennedy a "worthy opponent."

"I say this as a Republican and a Reagan conservative who opposed most of what Ted Kennedy spent his entire life trying to accomplish," writes Rollins in a column posted on CNN. "But he was first and foremost a worthy opponent who with the help of his extraordinary Senate staff always came prepared."

Rollins highlighted Kennedy's leadership in passing legislations for women's rights, immigration reform and health care.

But some conservatives are quick to remind the public that the nine-term senator from Massachusetts also was known for his unwavering support for the gay community and abortion rights.

The Human Rights Campaign, the nation's largest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) civil rights organization, has given Kennedy a perfect 100 percent on all of its congressional scorecards.

Massachusetts, the state Kennedy represents, was the first state to legalize same-sex marriage. Only five years later did Connecticut follow and legalize such unions in 2008.

Last year, news broke of Kennedy's cancerous brain tumor. He has been battling illnesses for the last several months of his life, keeping largely out of the public eye.

Kennedy, who married twice and divorced once, is survived by his widow, three children, and five grandchildren.

With his death, Jean Kennedy Smith, 81, is the only surviving child of Joseph P. Kennedy and Rose Kennedy's nine children. The Kennedy children included President John F. Kennedy and Senator Robert F. Kennedy, both victims of political assassinations.