Mary Bonauto (b. 1961) is a lawyer and civil rights advocate who has been instrumental in eradicating discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, and been called “our Thurgood Marshall” by retired congressman Barney Frank. She was born into a Roman Catholic family in Newburgh, NY. After graduating law school, in 1987, she entered private practice in Maine where she was one of three openly gay private practice lawyers in the state. She has taken on cases in such areas as public accommodations discrimination, relationship protections (including second parent rights), vindicating First Amendment protections, and challenging anti-gay harassment and violence. Her work has informed public policy in all six New England states.
Bonauto’s first marriage case was in Vermont in 1997 that led Vermont to become the first state to enact civil unions and extending benefits to same-sex couples in a “separate but equal” system. Then she was the lead attorney in the Goodridge v Department of Public Health case in Massachusetts that ruled in her favor, leading MA to be the first state to allow civil marriage for same-sex couples. After similar successes in Connecticut and Maine, she took the lead in the Obergefell v. Hodges case in front of the US Supreme Court that led to the ruling that state bans on same-sex marriage as unconstitutional. She also won cases that led to overturning Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).
Mary Bonauto continues to live in Portland, ME with her spouse, Jennifer Wriggins whom she married in MA. They have twin daughters. Bonauto has also received many accolades for the impact she made, including Yale University’s 2010-11 Brudner Prize. She has been on Boston Magazine’s “Most Powerful Women in Boston” list, and was included in the list of 31 LGB history icons in 2012.
In honor of and with great appreciation for her work, take a moment to reflect on her own words that remind us demonizing the ‘other’ is not the way to go: “When you’re in a fight for your common humanity, you cannot discount the common humanity of others.”