Maine attorney Mary Bonauto, who made the winning argument before the U.S. Supreme Court that led to its 5-4 decision on Friday that same-sex couples have the right to marry, said the ruling “brings joy and relief to millions of Americans and their families.”

Bonauto, who lives in Portland and is widely regarded as a pioneer in advancing gay rights, was selected to represent gay couples in Ohio, Michigan, Kentucky and Tennessee, arguing the first of two questions before the court in April on whether the U.S. Constitution protects a right to same-sex marriage.

The ruling cemented a historic victory for gay and lesbian advocates, who say the fight for same-sex marriage has been among the most important civil rights issues of modern times, and comes as public opinion has swiftly veered in favor of same-sex marriage.

“It’s a complete victory, and the court was clear in the right to marry in all 50 states and recognizing people’s existing marriages,” Bonauto said in a phone interview from Washington, D.C. “Gay people have a right to the same liberties as everyone else.”

For Bonauto, who works as the civil rights project coordinator for the Boston-based Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, the Supreme Court ruling is an affirmation of her life’s work. She won the nation’s first case regarding same-sex marriage, allowing same-sex marriage in Massachusetts in 2003, and said the Supreme Court’s decision concludes her work to achieve marriage equality nationwide.

“This is it,” she said.

Bonauto said she has been in Washington on each of the days the court issued rulings this term. She said she didn’t know the decision would come down Friday, and described the mood outside the Supreme Court as “extremely excited.” She spoke to the Portland Press Herald by phone after addressing to a crowd outside the courthouse.

“This is also a great day for our Constitution. Make no mistake about it. Today the court stood by a principle in this nation that we do not tolerate laws that disadvantage people for who they are. So it is a day for equality, for liberty and justice under law,” Bonauto told the Associated Press in a recorded interview.

Though gay couples in Maine have been able to marry since 2012, when the state became the first in the nation to legalize same-sex marriage by popular vote, the Supreme Court’s decision means their marriages now will be recognized no matter where they are in the nation.

Steven Bridges and Michael Snell, who were the first gay couple to marry in Maine returned Friday to Portland City Hall, where they exchanged their vows 2½ years ago, to speak about the news.

“You know for us, this is the way it has been here in Portland for 2½ years, but we live in a really progressive bubble here in Portland. So day-to-day life isn’t going to change for us with this ruling, but it’s really welcome and it’s a huge relief,” Snell said.

Bridges said the ruling was very emotional for him, since it finally ends the long fight for equal marriage rights.

“We don’t have to keep carrying a folder with all our paperwork from the lawyers and our living will and all that other stuff,” Bridges said.

Snell would like people who opposed same-sex marriage to ask themselves how his marriage to Bridges affected their lives, saying he didn’t think it affected them at all.

Heather Dexter celebrated the decision Friday night at Styxx, a Portland nightclub.

“I’m not typically a crier, but (the ruling) made me bawl like a little baby,” the Windham resident said.

Dexter said she and her wife, Nicole Dexter, got married in 2011 in a ceremony at Portland Head Light, surrounded by family, and then again two years later, when Maine made same-sex marriages legal.

Even though Friday’s ruling had no immediate impact in Maine, she said it was empowering.

“We’re validated, and it’s about damn time,” she said.

Outside the bar, where an A-frame sign on the sidewalk read, “Love Wins,” Lucy Adolphson of Portland said she, too, felt like celebrating.

“It’s a very, very happy day,” she said.

Adolphson said she’s currently in a new relationship, but likes the fact that it could lead to marriage.

“I very much believe in marriage,” she said. “I’m a product of a 42-year marriage and I believe in it.”

The Christian Civic League, which had been vocally opposed to the passage of Maine’s same-sex marriage law, issued a statement that rejected the reasoning behind Friday’s ruling.

“Today’s Supreme Court decision in Obergefell v. Hodges not only marks a profound departure from hundreds of years of American history and tradition, but also undermines the constitutional role of states to decide important issues related to marriage and family for themselves,” the organization said in the statement. “While the Christian Civic League affirms the dignity of all people, it rejects the Court’s view that a state’s support for traditional marriage violates the 14th Amendment.”

Bishop Robert Deeley of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland called the court’s decision “a profound disappointment” for all who view marriage as a sacred bond between a man and a woman.

“Though the decision is a disappointment, we are also reminded that the Catholic Church believes in the respect that is due to all people, and that which preserves their human dignity. This respect is at the core of our faith, as is our belief in the authentic meaning and definition of marriage. Neither principle should be confronted with discrimination. I am thankful that the true principle of religious liberty is specifically upheld in this decision,” Deeley said in a written statement.

Three members of Maine’s congressional delegation offered congratulations upon news of the Supreme Court’s ruling.

“Sen. (Angus) King believes that ending discrimination against same-sex couples is fair and right,” said Scott Ogden, a spokesman for King, an independent. “And today, he is filled with pride for all of the brave men and women who have fought tirelessly to end discrimination and who have stood up in the face of intolerance and prejudice. He congratulates them on this momentous occasion.”

U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, a 1st District Democrat, called it “a beautiful day for millions of loving, committed couples across the country.”

“In dozens of states there are couples that share homes, raise children and remain committed to each other through good times and bad, but have been denied the basic right of getting married to each other,” she wrote in a statement. “Today that changed, and same-sex couples in every state will have the same rights they enjoy in Maine and the other states that have legalized same-sex marriage.”

U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, a Republican, said the court’s decision marked “an important day for many of our friends, family members, and neighbors.” Collins also commended Bonauto for her work on the case.

“This opinion appropriately distinguishes between civil marriage ceremonies and religious ceremonies and recognizes that the First Amendment protects the beliefs of churches,” Collins said.

U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, who represents Maine’s 2nd Congressional District, did not return a phone call or email requesting comment.

The 5-4 ruling, written by Justice Anthony M. Kennedy and joined by the court’s four more liberal justices, also found that same-sex marriages must be recognized in all states.

Thirty-six states, including Maine, allowed same-sex marriage before Friday’s ruling.

Maine Attorney General Janet Mills said members of the Maine Bar should be proud to count Bonauto among their ranks.

“The Supreme Court’s edict ensures that Maine citizens will be accorded the same rights in other states as they are accorded here,” Mills said.

Portland Mayor Michael Brennan also praised the ruling, saying “this is a great day in our country’s history.”

EqualityMaine held a rally in Bangor to celebrate the Supreme Court decision.

“Today’s historic Supreme Court ruling means same-sex couples will soon have the freedom to marry and the equal respect for their marriages across our entire country. Because of the incredible work done here in Maine, we have been fortunate to have had this freedom since 2012 and we are thrilled that this ruling will strengthen families nationwide,” said Elise Johansen, EqualityMaine’s executive director.

Johansen said she lived in Florida before gay marriage in Maine was approved. She and her wife, Shaun, came to Maine to be legally married at Belfast City Hall and then moved here in September 2013.

Alison Beyea, executive director of the ACLU of Maine, issued a joint statement with EqualityMaine.

“Today’s landmark decision will bring joy to families, and final nationwide victory to the decades-long, freedom-to-marry movement. We must now harness the momentum from this conversation to the work of securing additional advances towards equality, especially nondiscrimination protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans,” Beyea said in the statement.

Zachary Robbins, who attended the rally, called the Supreme Court’s decision “a foot in the door of equality” for everyone in this country.

“It is a gigantic victory for the United States, however, we still have a long way to go for complete equality,” Robbins said.

For now, though, he said he was “blown away” by the importance of the decision and that there is a lot to celebrate.

Another rally attendee, Einstein Hickman, called the decision “validation of our community” across the country.

“It’s about community and family at this point and being recognized as an equal population within the United States,” Hickman said. “For so long, we haven’t been.”

Staff Writer Edward D. Murphy and freelance photographer Kevin Bennett contributed to this story.

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

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