Thomas B. Stoddard

Thomas B. Stoddard a lawyer whose persuasiveness and erudition advanced the cause of equal rights for gay men, lesbians and people with AIDS, died Wednesday at his home in Manhattan of complications due to AIDS. He was 48.

Mr. Stoddard was born in Seattle and spent much of his adolescence in Glenview, Ill., a Chicago suburb. He graduated from Georgetown University and the New York University School of Law, where he was a fellow in the Arthur Garfield Hays Civil Liberties Program.

On graduating in 1977, Mr. Stoddard joined the firm of Norwick, Raggio, Jaffe & Kayser. He served in Albany as counsel to Barbara Shack, the legislative director for the New York Civil Liberties Union, then succeeded to that post in 1982, when the death penalty and abortion rights were at the top of the agenda.Mr. Stoddard was executive director of the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund in New York from 1986 to 1992, fighting discrimination against homosexuals and AIDS patients in employment, housing, health care, insurance, family law and military service. During his tenure, Lambda's staff grew from 6 to 22 people and it became a nationally influential organization.

As an adjunct professor at the New York University School of Law, beginning in 1981, Mr. Stoddard taught one of the first courses on constitutional law, case law and statutes that affect the lives of lesbians and gay men. There are now dozens of such courses around the nation. Mr. Stoddard was an author of the 1986 bill passed by the New York City Council that protects homosexuals against bias in housing, employment and public accommodations. Quotable and telegenic with an earnest demeanor, Mr. Stoddard became a spokesman and lobbyist for civil liberties generally and gay civil rights in particular, using his understated mien to disarm critics and win allies. But his conciliatory approach alienated some of the more outspoken gay-rights advocates. And Mr. Stoddard's last major public role, as director of the Campaign for Military Service, ended in bitter defeat.In April 1993, he and other leaders of homosexual groups met with President Clinton, the first such delegation to be welcomed to the Oval Office. Participants said Mr. Clinton assured them he would keep his promise to end the policy of banning homosexuals from military service on the basis of sexual orientation.

Three months later, Mr. Clinton endorsed a policy that retained the ban, though it nominally limited the scope of official investigations. The White House characterized this as a compromise, but Mr. Stoddard was unpersuaded. ''You can't simply split the difference on matters of principle,'' he said. Mr. Stoddard presaged by a decade the national debate over same-sex marriage. ''The general public seems to feel that being gay is an individual existence that precludes family life,'' he said in 1985, on being appointed to head Lambda. ''In fact, it often involves being part of a family in every possible sense: as spouse, as parent, as child. Society needs to foster greater stability in gay relationships.''

Mr. Stoddard and Mr. Rieman, a partner in the law firm of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, held a wedding ceremony in 1993. The two men exchanged gold bands and the vow, ''I commit to you my life and my love for the rest of our days.''Besides Mr. Rieman, Mr. Stoddard is survived by his mother, Meta, of Conroe, Tex.; a brother, John, of Seattle, and a sister, Linda Leonard, of Henderson Harbor, N.Y. In October 1995, the Tom Stoddard Fellowship was established at New York University.