Gay rights pioneer to argue Supreme Court marriage case

Boston attorney Mary Bonauto will argue gay marriage case at Supreme Court

Mary Bonauto, the Boston lawyer who won the first gay marriage rulings in Massachusetts and Vermont, will lead the argument before the Supreme Court in favor of a constitutional right to same-sex marriage nationwide.

Bonauto has been seen by gay rights advocates as the attorney who deserves the most credit for winning marriage equality in the courts.

She was selected by the attorneys and the couples from four states whose cases will be heard on April 28.

"The road that we've all traveled to get here has been built by so many people who believe that marriage is a fundamental right," she said in a statement issued Tuesday. "Same-sex couples should not be excluded from the joy, the security and the full citizenship signified by that institution."

Bonauto will be representing April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse, two nurses from Michigan who are raising four adopted children. She will argue that the 14th Amendment's guarantee of liberty and equal protection of the laws requires the state to issue them a marriage license.

A second attorney, Douglas Hallward-Driemeier, will argue on behalf of plaintiffs in Ohio and Tennessee, addressing the question of whether the 14th Amendment requires a state to recognize a marriage between two people of the same sex when their marriage was lawfully licensed and performed out-of-state.

Bonauto was a civil rights lawyer for the Gay and Lesbian Defenders and Advocates in Boston in the 1990s when she began the legal drive for equal treatment for gay couples. 

She won a ruling from the Vermont Supreme Court in 1999, which led to the first "civil unions" law, and she won the first gay marriage decision before the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court in 2003.

Then, after thousands of gay couples were married in New England, she led the challenge to the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which denied equal benefits to these married couples.

The Supreme Court struck down that provision in 2013, triggering a series of lower court rulings in favor of gay marriage across the nation.

Earlier this month, four groups of lawyers representing various plaintiffs in the current cases, asked the Supreme Court to divide up the time for arguments equally among four lawyers, each speaking for 15 minutes, plus one additional attorney representing the U.S. government. All wanted the opportunity to appear before the court in such a landmark case and they could not agree on who should take the lead.

The court put out a statement Tuesday asking the groups to settle on only two attorneys, which is what they did.

Twitter: @DavidGSavage

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