WASHINGTON (CNN) - Sen. Edward Kennedy is being awarded an honorary knighthood, Britain's Prime Minister Gordon Brown said Wednesday.
"Northern Ireland is today at peace, more Americans have health care, more children around the world are going to school, and for all those things we owe a great debt to the life and courage of Senator Edward Kennedy," Brown said in an address to a joint meeting of Congress.
Kennedy, who underwent surgery for brain cancer last year, was not present for the speech, but his colleagues gave him a standing ovation when the honor was announced.
The long-serving Massachusetts Democrat and head of one of the most important families in American politics said in a written statement that he is "deeply grateful" for the honor.
"This honor is moving and personal," Kennedy said, "a reflection not only of my public life, but of things that profoundly matter to me as an individual. I accept this honor in the spirit in which it is given, with a continuing commitment to be a voice for the voiceless and for the shared ideals of freedom and fairness which are so fundamental to the character of our two countries."
As an American, Kennedy cannot receive an official knighthood, and cannot use the title "Sir Edward," but he will be allowed use the letters "K.B.E." after his name, for Knight of the British Empire.
Kennedy, 77, has been a senator since 1962. Known as Ted, he is the younger brother of President John F. Kennedy and Sen. Robert Kennedy.
He played major roles in passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act and the 1993 Family and Medical Leave Act, and was an outspoken liberal standard-bearer during a conservative-dominated era from the 1980s to the early 2000s.
Kennedy suffered a seizure in May 2008 at his home on Cape Cod. Shortly afterward, doctors diagnosed a brain tumor.
Surgeons at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, North Carolina, removed as much of the tumor as possible the following month. Doctors considered the procedure a success, and Kennedy underwent follow-up radiation treatments and chemotherapy.
But he has rarely been seen in public since then.
Neither the British Foreign Office nor Buckingham Palace, the official home of Queen Elizabeth II, could say if Kennedy would come to London to receive his honor personally from the Queen. No date has been set for the ceremony, a Foreign Office spokeswoman said. She declined to be named, in keeping with British custom.
With the honorary knighthood, Kennedy joins Americans including former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, movie director Steven Spielberg, former Secretary of State Colin Powell, ex-Presidents Ronald Reagan and the first George Bush, and British-born actor Bob Hope.
Updated: 11:19 a.m.