Pioneer for same-sex marriage rights among lawyers for high court cases

Pioneer for same-sex marriage rights among lawyers for high court cases
Mary Bonauto
Mary Bonauto Elise Amendola, AP

WASHINGTON — Five lawyers will take turns at the Supreme Court lectern Tuesday for the highly anticipated and extended arguments over same-sex marriage. Among them are the Obama administration’s top lawyer at the high court, with more than two dozen arguments behind him, and two lawyers making their first appearance before the justices.

The cases come from Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee, all of which had their marriage bans upheld by the federal appeals court in Cincinnati.

The justices will hear 2½ hours of arguments on these two questions: whether same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry and whether states must recognize same-sex marriages from elsewhere.

Civil rights lawyer Mary Bonauto, backed by Solicitor General Donald Verrilli Jr., will argue for the right to marry. Former Michigan Solicitor General John Bursch will defend the state laws.

On the second question, Washington lawyer Douglas Hallward-Driemeier will urge the court to rule that states must recognize same-sex marriages performed elsewhere. On the other side will be Joseph Whalen, Tennessee’s associate solicitor general.

A look at the advocates:


Bonauto has been called the Thurgood Marshall of the push for equal rights for gay and lesbian in the United States. She was the winning lawyer the first time a court granted same-sex couples the right to marry, in Massachusetts in 2003. She hopes her next argument is the last time same-sex marriage is tested in court.

The 53-year-old has been at the forefront of the legal fight for gay rights, including same-sex marriage, for more than two decades. But it will be her first argument before the nation’s highest court.

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In her early days as the civil rights project director at the Boston-based Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, where she has worked for 25 years, Bonauto said she used to say no when same-sex couples asked her to take on their marriage cases in the courts. As recently as late 2012, Bonauto worried that the time was not yet right to ask the Supreme Court to settle the issue once and for all.

But that time has now arrived, she said.

“There’s no reason to tell these families they should be denied legal respect. It’s our hope that we soon will be able to secure that for people everywhere,” Bonauto said in a recent call with reporters.

Bonauto received a MacArthur Foundation fellowship last year. She lives in Portland, Maine, with her wife, professor Jennifer Wriggins of the University of Maine’s law school, and their twin teenage daughters.

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Marriage News Watch:
April 27, 2015

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