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?

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