Mary Bonauto ’83, H’05 was featured in a New York Times article (3/27/13) “In Fight for Marriage Rights, ‘she’s our Thurgood Marshall,’” regarding same-sex marriage cases pending before the Supreme Court.
Attorney Roberta Kaplan who is arguing one of the cases before the Supreme Court, said of Bonauto in the Times article, ““No gay person in this country would be married without Mary Bonauto.’”
Bonauto majored in history and comparative literature and graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Hamilton. She earned her J.D. degree from Northeastern Law then joined a law firm in Maine, where she did pro bono work on behalf of those discriminated against because of AIDS. In 1990 she became civil rights project director of Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders in Boston.
The Hamilton honorary degree citation awarded to Bonauto in 2005 noted, “During the ensuing years, armored against attack by tenacity of purpose, you have battled ¬within the courtroom on behalf of equal rights for citizens regardless of sexual orientation. New England has become a focal point in that campaign, and there you have marshaled the legal arguments before state supreme courts on the constitutional right of same-sex couples to marry. The result has been to extend for the first time all the legal benefits of marriage to same-sex couples in the form of civil unions in Vermont, and to end the exclusion of such couples from civil marriage in Massachusetts.”
The New York Times article noted that Bonauto “prompted Vermont to create civil unions in 2000, won the 2003 case that made Massachusetts the first state to legalize same-sex marriage and last year persuaded a federal appeals court that the Defense of Marriage Act, which denies federal benefits to gay couples, is unconstitutional.”
At that time, “Barney Frank, the former Massachusetts congressman, who is openly gay, said the move had sealed Ms. Bonauto’s reputation as a ‘first-rate lawyer and a first-rate strategist’ who built on one victory after another.” said the Times. “‘She’s our Thurgood Marshall,’” he said, referring to the Supreme Court justice who made history fighting racial discrimination.
“Ms. Kaplan said it ‘makes me crazy’ that people do not know Ms. Bonauto’s work. Like Mr. Frank, she drew an analogy to Justice Marshall.
“‘She conceived of a strategy just like him, over a long number of years, and then implemented it, ’” Ms. Kaplan said. “'It was strategically brilliant, and she succeeded. No one else can say that.”
Bonauto is tentatively scheduled to return to Hamilton in June to make a presentation at her 30th class Reunion.