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June 19, 2009

GLAD's Mary Bonauto on the DNC Fundraiser

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Attorney Mary Bonauto of Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders was an invited guest to the DNC fundraising dinner.  She asked if she could post her thoughts on the event here at Pam’s House Blend.  We are more than happy to oblige.


I will not be attending the Democratic National Committee dinner next week.  I was invited as a guest, and I want people to understand that GLAD has never given money and will never give money to any political candidate or political party.  Moreover, GLAD has never tied, and never will tie, our community’s fortunes to any political party.  We have long realized that responsibility for our freedom and equality is primarily in our own hands – and we have to work for it.  That is what GLAD has been doing for 31 years, and I think we have a track record of success in New England to prove it.

It would be counterproductive at this point for me to attend the dinner.  I see and understand the anger of many in the community.  At GLAD, we’re angry, too.  We’re angry because we see and live and feel the discrimination every day.  Many states and our national government enforce existing anti-gay laws or simply fail to see discrimination against lgbt people as both personally devastating and a stain on our nation’s commitment to equal justice under law.  Every day we hear from people who suffer unconscionable treatment, and we do our best to defend and advocate for them on a whole range of issues – marriage, jobs, transgender rights, safe schools, HIV and AIDS, and bias-related violence.

Our way, and my way, of dealing with that anger is to focus on the work.  And we are working very hard – fighting DOMA Section 3 with our lawsuit, Gill v. Office of Personnel Management, in which we represent widowers, retirees, parents and spouses who are hurt in very concrete ways by DOMA.  So, as you can imagine, we had a very particular interest in reading how the Obama Department of Justice would tackle the Smelt DOMA challenge in California, even though it does not deal with concrete harms imposed by DOMA.  All we knew in advance is that it would be different from the Bush administration’s response, and it was.  At the same time, some things in this new brief were startling; while others were silly, wrong or offensive or all of the above.

But litigation is never a pretty business; and we have been preparing at GLAD to take on and defeat any and all arguments made in support of DOMA.  We are not daunted by anything the Obama Justice Department had to say.  In my view, it is good that the community has let the administration know that we expect a lot from them and that we want leadership on lgbt equality and not arguments that reflect backward and unenlightened thinking.  At the same time, it is unrealistic to think – at least in the context of litigating about the constitutionality of a federal statute that has already been upheld by several courts – that any administration is going to simply be able to roll over and surrender.  It just doesn’t work that way.  There are certain rules in this particular process, and GLAD is prepared to engage the Administration in the courts according to those rules.  And we are convinced also that we can win!

A bit of information on our guest, courtesy GLAD.

Mary Bonauto, Esq.

Civil Rights Project Director

Mary Bonauto has been the Civil Rights Project Director at Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD) since 1990. Her practice concentrates on impact litigation for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities, as well as people living with HIV or AIDS. She has litigated widely in the state and federal courts and agencies of the six New England states since 1990 on issues of employment discrimination, custody, free speech and civil rights. In 1999, she and two Vermont co-counsel won a ruling that same-sex couples are entitled to all of the benefits and protections of civil marriage in the case of Baker v. State of Vermont. This ruling prompted the Vermont legislature to enact the nation’s first “civil union” law for same-sex couples. She was lead counsel in Goodridge v. Dept. of Public Health, which resulted in the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court declaring that prohibiting civil marriage for same-sex couples is unconstitutional.

Mary is a graduate of Hamilton College and Northeastern University School of Law. She serves as a Vice Chair of the Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Committee of the IRR Section of the ABA.

  • New York Times Magazine May 2004: Toward a More Perfect Union
  • Mary Bonauto featured in The Advocate, December 2004
  • The Boston Globe Magazine‘s People of the Year, December 2004


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