After two days of same-sex marriage arguments at the Supreme Court, New York Times reporter Sheryl Gay Stolberg bestowed a blessing on the "serious and unassuming" Mary Bonauto, a lawyer for Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders (GLAD). Even the headline equated gay marriage with the civil rights fight, citing the legendary civil rights lawyer who became a Supreme Court Justice: "In Fight for Marriage Rights, 'She's Our Thurgood Marshall.'"
The Marshall reference comes from left-wing former Rep. Barney Frank, who is openly gay and married. We also learn "Ms. Bonauto is too busy juggling legal briefs, homework and piano lessons to see herself as a woman making history." But not too busy to be feted in the news pages of the Times.
Most Americans have never heard of Mary Bonauto. But inside the tightknit world of gay legal advocacy, Ms. Bonauto is a quiet celebrity -- a lawyer and mother of twins who some say is almost single-handedly responsible for the same-sex marriage cases now pending before the Supreme Court.
“No gay person in this country would be married without Mary Bonauto,” said Roberta Kaplan, who went before the justices on Wednesday to argue one of the cases.
As the top civil rights lawyer for Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders, or GLAD, based in Boston, Ms. Bonauto has spent more than a decade plotting a careful strategy to advance gay marriage rights. She prompted Vermont to create civil unions in 2000, won the 2003 case that made Massachusetts the first state to legalize same-sex marriage and last year persuaded a federal appeals court that the Defense of Marriage Act, which denies federal benefits to gay couples, is unconstitutional.
At 51, Ms. Bonauto is serious and unassuming. “She is not going to set a room on fire,” said Dean Hara, a plaintiff in Ms. Bonauto’s Defense of Marriage Act case. “But when she is arguing, she is really somebody to listen to.”
Even her opponents offer kind words, saying they appreciate her civil tone.
“She has always been the consummate professional, very courteous and gentle,” said Kris Mineau of the Massachusetts Family Institute, even as he said her courtroom victories had “degraded the value of marriage.”
Ms. Bonauto works mostly from her home in this seaport city, where she and her wife, Professor Jennifer Wriggins of the University of Maine’s law school, are raising their 11-year-old twin daughters. Last year, the couple made the list of “The Most Powerful Lesbian Moms in America,” published by the Web site mombian.com. But Ms. Bonauto is too busy juggling legal briefs, homework and piano lessons to see herself as a woman making history.
Stolberg then quoted Barney Frank praising Bonauto as a "first-rate lawyer and a first-rate strategist" who built on one victory after another.
“She’s our Thurgood Marshall,” he said, referring to the Supreme Court justice who made history fighting racial discrimination.