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

Pioneering civil rights attorney Mary L. Bonauto ’83 H’05 was selected from a cadre of attorneys to make an historic argument before the U.S. Supreme Court against same-sex marriage bans in Michigan and Kentucky. The court also will hear arguments on behalf of same-sex couples who want the states of Ohio and Tennessee to recognize their out-of-state marriages.

The arguments will take place April 28. Bonauto has worked toward the moment for more than two decades.

She is the civil rights project director for Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, known as GLAD, which announced March 31 that Bonauto is one of two attorneys who will take the marriage arguments to the Supreme Court. The other is Douglas Hallward-Driemeier, who will argue that a state is required to recognize the marriages of same-sex couples who were legally wed in another state.

When the attorneys for the marriage cases announced that they’d selected Bonauto and Hallward-Driemeier to address the court, they said the fundamental rights of millions of Americans “hang in the balance.”  Same-sex marriage is legal in 37 states and the District of Columbia. But, as Bonauto told the Hamilton Alumni Review in 2014, that patchwork approach is unworkable, and the Supreme Court needs to decide the issue for the entire country.

Bonauto’s marriage-rights victories over the years have earned her renown. They include a case that in 2004 resulted in Massachusetts becoming the first state to allow same-sex marriages. Other Bonauto wins are considered to have paved the way for a landmark 2013 Supreme Court decision knocking down a critical section of the Defense of Marriage Act. DOMA denied federal marriage benefits and privileges to married same-sex couples.

In 2014, Bonauto won a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship (a “Genius” award) for her civil rights work.

In a statement issued by GLAD, Bonauto says she’s “humbled” to stand up for Kentucky and Michigan couples who seek the freedom to marry.

“The road that we’ve all travelled to get here has been built by so many people who believe that marriage is a fundamental right.  Same-sex couples should not be excluded from the joy, the security, and the full citizenship signified by that institution. I believe the Court will give us a fair hearing, and I look forward to the day when all LGBT Americans will be able to marry the person they love,” Bonauto says in the statement.

According to GLAD, Bonauto got involved in the Michigan case when its co-counsels invited her to join the legal team. There are a number of co-counsels in the cases being considered by the Supreme Court, including GLAD, Lambda Legal, National Center for Lesbian Rights, the American Civil Liberties Union and private attorneys.

“Mary Bonauto crafted and argued the case that made Massachusetts the first state with full marriage equality and she won the first rulings in federal court that the Defense of Marriage Act was unconstitutional.  She helped launch the marriage movement and will now help bring it across the finish line,” the co-counsels said in a statement.

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