Mary Bonauto to argue same-sex marriage case before U.S. Supreme Court

Well-known Boston-based attorney, Mary Bonauto, will be one of two advocates to argue against state bans on same-sex marriage before the U.S. Supreme Court on April 28.

The news came after the Supreme Court quietly stuck to its initial directive that the parties send up only two attorneys—one to argue each of the two questions the court posed when accepting the case for argument.

The 37 attorneys for the same-sex couples sent a March 17 letter to the Clerk of the Supreme Court proposing that they send four attorneys to the lectern—one from each of the cases in four states that are on appeal. The letter seemed to give credence to reports of tension behind the scenes, as many attorneys were vying for the opportunity to argue what will be one of the most high-profile cases before the Supreme Court this term.

A court spokesperson said the clerk’s office “verbally encouraged” the attorneys to accept the court’s initial plan.

In a March 31 press release, groups involved in the litigation announced that Bonauto, who led the 2004 Massachusetts legal challenge for equal treatment of same-sex couples in marriage licensing, and Douglas Hallward-Driemeier, a partner in the firm Ropes & Gray’s D.C. office, would deliver the arguments. The ruling in this appeal could dramatically change the legal landscape for LGBT people nationwide.

Bonauto, civil rights director for Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD), is highly respected by attorneys straight and gay, and is the best known of the attorneys working on the four marriage cases from the Sixth Circuit appeal.

She won the landmark Goodridge v. Department of Public Health lawsuit in 2003 that led to Massachusetts becoming the first state in the nation to treat same-sex couples equally with heterosexual couples in the issuing of marriage licenses and recognition of marriage-related rights and benefits. She also led GLAD’s team in Gill et al. v. Office of Personnel Management, the first successful federal appellate challenge against the federal Defense of Marriage Act. She was the subject of a profile in the New York Times Magazine, received a MacArthur Foundation grant, and has been compared to civil rights giant and former Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall.

Bonauto has led GLAD’s legal team for 25 years and has as much or more experience than any other attorney in the country in litigating the marriage equality issue. She is co-counsel on the team of private attorneys in the Michigan case, DeBoer v. Snyder. A GLAD press release indicated Bonauto will be representing both the Michigan case and the Kentucky case, Love v. Beshear. She will address the court’s Question 1: “Does the Fourteenth Amendment require a state to license a marriage between two people of the same sex?”

Douglas Hallward-Driemeier will argue Question 2: “Does the Fourteenth Amendment require a state to recognize a marriage between two people of the same sex when their marriage was lawfully licensed and performed out-of-state?”

Hallward-Driemeier is an attorney on the legal team challenging the Tennessee ban in Tanco v. Haslam. He will also represent plaintiffs in the Ohio case, Obergefell v. Hodges.

Hallward-Driemeier heads Ropes & Gray’s Supreme Court practice. Prior to joining the firm, he handled Supreme Court litigation for the U.S. Department of Justice. He also served as assistant to Republican solicitor general Paul Clement during the administration of President George W. Bush. An article in the Journal of Law for Emory University School of Law said Hallward-Driemeier ranked 26th among the most frequent Supreme Court advocates between 2000 and 2012, having argued 13 cases. Clement was No. 1, having argued 62 cases at that time. Clement added to that number in 2013 by arguing for the preservation of the Defense of Marriage Act.