The daughter of a pharmacist and a preschool teacher from Newburgh, N.Y., she had come out, with some difficulty, while an undergraduate at Hamilton College. There, Ms. Bonauto was harassed over her sexual orientation, which she said contributed to her desire to “make life better” for others.
By 1990, with a law degree from Northeastern University, she was working for GLAD in Boston. She had been there less than a week when a gay couple approached her with the idea of suing to get married. She said no, the timing was not right.
“I would have cases of somebody who goes to a Dunkin’ Donuts and the wait person realizes it was a gay person and goes nuts,” Ms. Bonauto recalled. How could she pursue a seeming luxury like marriage, she reasoned, when gay people were being discriminated against in housing, employment and adoption and being harassed by the police?