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Civil Rights Attorney Mary Bonauto ’83, H’05 Named MacArthur Foundation Fellow


Mary Bonauto '83 H'05
Mary Bonauto '83 H'05

Mary L. Bonauto ’83 H’05, a leader of the campaign for same-sex marriage and LGBT rights, is among 21 recipients of a 2014 MacArthur Foundation Fellowship. She is an attorney with Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders (GLAD) in Boston. Bonauto received an honorary degree from Hamilton in 2005. She was featured in Hamilton’s Alumni Review in Spring-Summer 2014.

According to its website, “The MacArthur Fellows Program awards unrestricted fellowships to talented individuals who have shown extraordinary originality and dedication in their creative pursuits and a marked capacity for self-direction.” Fellows are selected for their exceptional creativity, promise for important future advances, and potential for the fellowship to facilitate subsequent creative work.

Each fellow receives a no-strings-attached stipend of $625,000, paid over five years. The fellowship comes with no stipulations or reporting requirements, and allows recipients maximum freedom to follow their own creative visions.

According to the MacArthur Foundation website, Bonauto “is a civil rights lawyer whose powerful arguments and long-term legal strategies have led to historic strides in the effort to achieve marriage equality for same-sex couples across the United States. The civil rights project director at GLAD since 1990, much of her early work focused on adoption and parenting, censorship, hate crimes, and discrimination in jobs and public accommodations.”

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.

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.”

In making its award, the MacArthur Foundation said, “GLAD’s subsequent filing of Goodridge v. Department of Public Health in Massachusetts, relying again on state constitutional guarantees of equality and liberty, resulted in the 2003 landmark decision that made that state the first to extend marriage equality to same-sex couples.

“In 2009, Bonauto led a team from GLAD and private law firms in the first strategic challenge to section three of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA)... Her case—Gill v. Office of Personnel Management—provided the first federal court wins in challenges to DOMA (in 2010 and 2012 rulings), and served as an important model for United States v. Windsor, the landmark case that ultimately resulted in the U.S. Supreme Court striking down DOMA in 2013 and on which she served as a strategist and external coordinator of friend-of-the-court briefs.”

Since 2013 Bonauto has been the Shikes Fellow in Civil Liberties and Civil Rights and Lecturer on Law at Harvard Law School. She was featured in a 2013 New York Times article, “In Fight for Marriage Rights, ‘She’s Our Thurgood Marshall.’”

Civil rights leader Robert Moses, founder of the Algebra Project and a 1956 Hamilton graduate, was a 1982 MacArthur Fellow. The Algebra Project is a program that has won national attention for preparing students in largely rural and inner-city communities to take college-prep mathematics.

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