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MARY BONAUTO DOMA’S ACHILLES HEEL


40 M


ary Bonauto, the 52-year-old civil rights project director of the Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders (GLAAD), has been hailed as the T urgood Marshall of the marriage equality movement. Bonauto came out as a lesbian in


college. T e diffi culties she encountered when she came out, such as harassment and being ostracized, infl u- enced her decision to become a lawyer. She says her parents imbued in her a sense of justice and a desire to treat everyone with dignity. T at, she says, has shaped her outlook on life and her work. After graduating from Northeastern Law School


in the late 1980s, Bonauto went into private practice in Maine and soon found herself doing civil rights work for gays, lesbians, and those aff ected by HIV. She also did a lot of public education work and some legal consulting and litigation on civil unions. She rose to national prominence as lead counsel on a marriage equality suit in Vermont in the late 1990s and later worked on the Massachusetts case. In 2009, Bonauto and GLAAD fi led a lawsuit


challenging the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act. Bonauto and her co-counsels argued that excluding same-sex married couples from all marital protections violated the constitution’s equal protection guarantees. T e judge sided with Bonauto. “T ere were many people who thought the case was


too bold and dangerous,” she says. “But after we won we thought we had come up with the right way to approach the marriage equality fi ght. It was clear to people that


we had fi gured out the Achilles heel for DOMA.” After the federal district court’s ruling, she notes,


“we had marriage in Connecticut and Vermont and New Hampshire and this was before New York had marriage.” T roughout this time, Bonauto collaborated with


other attorneys in the marriage equality fi ght like Kaplan and those at the ACLU. “We’d been exchanging drafts and briefs for years


at that point,” she says. So when the Supreme Court agreed to hear the Windsor case, Bonauto teamed up with them again, except this time she hovered in the background playing a critical strategic role, such as coordinating the amicus briefs, which was helpful in shaping the attorney’s presentation before justices. Although she’s delighted they were able to invalidate


DOMA, she says there’s still a lot of work ahead. “T ere are still 34 states that don’t allow gays and


lesbians marry,” she says, adding that same-sex married people should be recognized as married in all states. She says members of the LGBT community are still


vulnerable in many areas of public life, such as employment. In more than half the states it is still legal to fi re someone for being gay. “I can’t tell you how important that is. In 1994


there was a sense during the Clinton presidency that (an employment law protecting the rights of gays) might be easy to pass,” she says, adding that gays are still vulnerable in many other areas. “We need a federal law and a law in housing, credit, and public accom- modation. T ere’s progress but we still need a law to secure that law.”


DIVERSITY & THE BAR® MARCH/APRIL 2014


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