Maine attorney Mary Bonauto, a pioneer in advancing gay rights, will be one of two lead attorneys arguing the issue of same-sex marriage before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Bonauto, who lives in Portland, was selected on Tuesday from a field of lawyers to represent gay couples in Ohio, Michigan, Kentucky and Tennessee on April 28, making the argument before the nation’s highest court to allow them to marry and have their marriages recognized in their home states.

Bonauto, 53, will represent couples from Kentucky and Michigan challenging their states’ same-sex marriage bans. Douglas Hallward-Driemeier, a former assistant solicitor general in Washington, will argue for plaintiffs from Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee who were married in other states and want their marriages to be recognized in their own states.

Bonauto won the nation’s first case regarding same-sex marriage, allowing same-sex marriage in Massachusetts in 2003.

Bonauto, who works as the civil rights project coordinator for the Boston-based Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, joined the legal team for the Michigan case, DeBoer v. Snyder, several months ago and has helped organize amicus briefs for the other cases.

“I’m humbled to be standing up for the petitioners from Kentucky and Michigan who seek the freedom to marry, along with attorneys Carole Stanyar, Dana Nessel, Ken Mogill, and Robert Sedler, and with support from the other legal teams in OH and TN,” Bonauto said in a written statement sent by GLAD on her behalf. “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. Same-sex couples should not be excluded from the joy, the security, and the full citizenship signified by that institution. I believe the Court will give us a fair hearing, and I look forward to the day when all LGBT Americans will be able to marry the person they love.”


Bonauto did not return a phone message seeking comment on her selection on Tuesday.

Carisa Cunningham, a spokeswoman for Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, said Bonauto would not make any further public comments about the case until after the April 28 arguments before the court.

Bonauto will argue the first of two questions before the U.S. Supreme Court, whether the U.S. Constitution protects a right to same-sex marriage. Hallward-Driemeier will argue the other question, whether states that ban same-sex marriage must recognize marriages conducted in states that do have same-sex marriage.

The high court agreed in January to hear the case after the federal Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit upheld gay marriage bans in Michigan, Ohio, Tennessee, and Kentucky. The 6th Circuit’s ruling broke with previous rulings by other federal appeals courts that said those bans violated the Constitution.

Carl Tobias, a professor at the University of Richmond School of Law in Virginia, said Bonauto is “an excellent choice” given her years of experience and history of legal victories in same-sex marriage cases.

“It could be far reaching if the court decides to resolve the issue nationally. Some justices may want to rule as narrowly as possible but the circuit split makes that difficult,” Tobias said. “The phrasing of the questions suggest one narrow approach, and that is only answering the second question. But it is difficult to see how the court avoids answering the first question.”


During Bonauto’s career at GLAD, where she has worked since 1990, she has been involved in every major state and federal legal battle over same-sex marriage.

In 1997, she was one of the attorneys that sued Vermont for not allowing civil marriages, leading to creation of civil unions.

In the Massachusetts case in 2003, she sued the state on behalf of seven gay and lesbian couples. That case was followed by a wave of other states allowing same-sex marriage by either legislation, court decision or popular vote.

Since Bonauto’s victory in the Massachusetts case, Goodridge v. Department of Public Health, same-sex marriage has been approved in 37 states and the District of Columbia. In Maine, Bonauto played a key role in the state’s citizen initiative leading up to the state’s approval vote in 2012, the first state law allowing same-sex marriage by popular election.

In 2014, she received the prestigious honor of being named a MacArthur Fellow, sometimes called a “genius grant,” of $625,000 paid out over five years by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

Elise Johansen, executive director of EqualityMaine, said her organization honored Bonauto on Saturday at its 31st annual gala for her work over the years and wasn’t surprised to hear she had been selected to argue the case before the Supreme Court.


“We are so lucky to have Mary Bonauto as a Mainer, but I also think EqualityMaine is feeling extraordinarily honored that Mary is been at the forefront of this cause and has been for decades,” Johansen said. “I would actually have been surprised if her name hadn’t been picked. She’s fabulous, and this has been her life’s work,

Bonauto, who began her career in private practice in Portland in 1987, lives in the city with her spouse, Jennifer Wriggins, a professor at the University of Maine School of Law, and their twin daughters.

Lawyers representing the four states who will argue in favor of their same-sex marriage bans were selected earlier in March. Former Michigan solicitor general John Bursch will defend the bans in Michigan and Kentucky, arguing the first question. Tennessee Associate Solicitor General Joseph Whalen will argue the cases for Tennessee, Kentucky and Ohio on the second question before the court.

Bursch’s law office deferred comment to the Michigan Attorney General’s Office, which issued a statement outlining the roles Bursch and Whalen will take at oral arguments.

“Michigan and Kentucky will be seated at the table while Michigan Special Assistant Attorney General John Bursch argues Question 1. Tennessee Associate Solicitor General Joseph Whalen will argue Question 2, of which Michigan is not a part,” Andrea Bitely, a spokeswoman for the Michigan Attorney General’s Office said in an email.

In response to a request for comment from Whalen, the Tennessee Attorney General’s Office also issued a statement only outlining Whalen’s role and Bursch’s role.

Scott Dolan can be reached at 791-6304 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: @scottddolan

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