Mary Bonauto

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Mary Bonauto
Bonauto 2014 hi-res-download 1 1.jpg
Mary Bonauto in 2014
Born c. 1962
Newburgh, New York
Nationality American
Occupation lawyer
Known for Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders
Awards Brudner Prize,
MacArthur fellow

Mary L. Bonauto (born c. 1962) is an American lawyer and civil rights advocate who has worked to eradicate discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, and has been referred to by US Representative Barney Frank as "our Thurgood Marshall." She began working with the Massachusetts-based Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD) organization in 1990.[1] A resident of Portland, Maine, Bonauto was one of the leaders who both worked with the Maine legislature to pass a marriage equality law and to defend it at the ballot in a narrow loss during the 2009 election campaign.

Personal life and accomplishments[edit]

Bonauto was born about 1962 and grew up in Newburgh, New York in a Roman Catholic family. She graduated from Hamilton College and Northeastern University School of Law.[2] In 1987, after graduating from law school, she entered private practice in Maine, where she was at the time one of three openly gay private practice lawyers in the state.[1] As of May 2010, she lived in Portland with her wife Jennifer Wriggins, who is a professor at the University of Maine School of Law. The couple were married in Massachusetts.[3] They have twin daughters, Sarah and Jean.[2]

GLAD, through Bonauto, has litigated widely in areas such as job and public accommodations discrimination, securing domestic partner benefits and relationship protections, establishing second parent rights and de facto parent status, vindicating First Amendment protections, and challenging anti-gay harassment and violence. She has worked in public policy in all six New England states, and occasionally writes for legal publications. Bonauto filed her first marriage case in Vermont in July 1997.[1]

Yale University awarded its 2010-2011 Brudner Prize, which recognizes "an accomplished scholar or activist whose work has made significant contributions to the understanding of LGBT issues or furthered the tolerance of LGBT people," to Bonauto.[4]

In 2011, Bonauto was named one of the 50 most-powerful women in Boston by Boston Magazine.[5]

In 2012, she was listed as one of the 31 LGBT history "icons" by the organisers of LGBT History Month.[6]

In March 2013, Roberta Kaplan, the lawyer arguing for DOMA repeal in the Supreme Court, told the New York Times, "No gay person in this country would be married without Mary Bonauto." Former US Representative Barney Frank, said "She's our Thurgood Marshall."[2]

In June 2013 immediately following the DOMA Supreme Court decision, she was called in Slate a "Gay Marriage Hero" and "the legal architect of the DOMA repeal."[7]

She was named a MacArthur fellow in September 2014 for her work "breaking down legal barriers based on sexual orientation".[8]


In 1997, Bonauto on behalf of GLAD, along with Beth Robinson and Susan Murray, filed a lawsuit in Vermont on behalf of three couples seeking the freedom to marry.[1] The suit was ultimately appealed to the Vermont Supreme Court, which ruled in the couples' favor but invited the Vermont Legislature to legislate a solution.[9] In the spring of 2000, the Vermont Legislature enacted civil unions, which extended all of the state-level benefits of marriage but in a different system from marriage itself.[1]


GLAD led by Bonauto filed suit in Massachusetts on behalf of seven gay and lesbian couples denied the freedom to marry in 2001.[10] In the case, known as Goodridge v. Department of Public Health, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court became the first state high court to rule that excluding gay people from civil marriage violates equal protection guarantees. Same-sex couples began marrying in May 2004.[1] The November 2003 ruling was contested politically for a number of years, but in June 2007, more than three-fourths of the state legislature voted to reject any proposal to amend the state constitution and reverse the Goodridge decision.[11]


GLAD, including Bonauto, filed suit in Connecticut[12] on behalf of seven gay and lesbian couples in August 2004. The Connecticut legislature responded by passing a civil union law the next year.[13] GLAD attorney Bennett Klein, joined by Bonauto, argued for the couples in the Connecticut Supreme Court and won a ruling that it was unjustified discrimination to place same-sex couples in the separate and lesser status of civil unions, and that sexual orientation was a "quasi-suspect" classification for equal protection purposes.[14]


In 2009, Maine became the first state to pass a marriage equality law through the legislature, instead of through the court system, and also have it signed into law by the Governor.[15] Bonauto was instrumental in the campaign to enact the marriage equality law, and was the architect of an unprecedentedly large public hearing on April 22, 2009, where proponents and opponents presented their arguments.[16] After the law was passed, a "people's veto" referendum campaign was begun and the voters overturned the law in November 2009, by a 53-47 margin.[3][17]

Gill v. Office of Personnel Management[edit]

In March 2009, GLAD, including Bonauto, and along with co-counsel from Foley Hoag, Jenner & Block, and Sullivan & Worcester, filed in U.S. District Court in Boston a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).[18] The case claims that the federal definition of marriage created by DOMA to exclude married same-sex couples from all federal marital protections violates equal protection guarantees. U.S. District Judge Joseph L. Tauro heard oral arguments on the merits of the case on May 6, 2010.[19] On July 8, 2010, Judge Tauro ruled that Section 3 of DOMA is unconstitutional with respect to claims brought by the seven married same-sex couples and three widowers from Massachusetts GLAD is representing in the case.[20] The Department of Justice will now decide whether to appeal the ruling.[21]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f New York Times: "Toward a More Perfect Union," May 5, 2004, accessed June 29, 2010
  2. ^ a b c Stolberg, Sheryl Gay (March 27, 2013). "In Fight for Marriage Rights, 'She's Our Thurgood Marshall'". New York Times. Retrieved July 13, 2013. 
  3. ^ a b Portland Press Herald: "Mainer challenging U.S. Defense of Marriage Act," May 2, 2010, accessed June 29, 2010
  4. ^ Yale University: James Robert Brudner '83 Memorial Prize and Lectures', accessed December 1, 2010
  5. ^ "Bonauto makes Boston 50-most-powerful list". Portland Press Herald. 4 February 2011. Retrieved 4 February 2011. 
  6. ^ "Mary Bonauto biography". LGBT History Month. 
  7. ^ Slate
  8. ^ Levenson, Eric (September 17, 2014). "Mary Bonauto and Harvard Math Professor Win $625,000 MacArthur 'Genius' Grants". Boston Globe. Retrieved September 17, 2014. 
  9. ^ Baker v. State December 20, 1999, accessed July 12, 2010
  10. ^ GLAD: "Goodridge et al. v. Dept. Public Health," November 18, 2003, accessed July 12, 2010
  11. ^ New York Times: Pam Belluck, "Massachusetts Gay Marriage to Remain Legal," June 15, 2007, accessed July 12, 2010
  12. ^ GLAD: Kerrigan & Mock v. Connecticut Dept. of Public Health, October 10, 2008, accessed July 12, 2010
  13. ^ General Assembly, State of Connecticut: "An Act Concerning Civil Unions," April 20, 2005, accessed July 12, 2010
  14. ^ New York Times: Robert D. McFadden, "Gay Marriage Is Ruled Legal in Connecticut," October 10, 2008, accessed July 12, 2010
  15. ^ New York Times: Abby Goodnough, "Maine Governor Signs Same-Sex Marriage Bill," May 6, 2009, accessed July 12, 2010
  16. ^ GLAD: "GLAD Helps Make ME Hearing a Huge Success", accessed July 12, 2010
  17. ^ Bangor Daily News: "Statewide Results," November 10, 2009, accessed July 12, 2010
  18. ^ GLAD: Challenging Federal Marriage Discrimination, accessed July 12, 2010
  19. ^ Christian Science Monitor: Will Buchanan, "Legal challenge of federal gay marriage ban begins," May 6, 2010, accessed July 12, 2010
  20. ^ New York Times: Abby Goodnough and John Schwartz, "Judge Topples U.S. Rejection of Gay Unions," July 8, 2010, accessed July 12, 2010
  21. ^ Washington Post: Denise Lavoie, "White House silent on Mass. gay marriage ruling," July 9, 201, accessed July 12, 2010

External links[edit]