Clela Rorex

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Clela Rorex issued the first same-sex marriage license in the United States.[1] Serving as the Boulder County Clerk, Rorex issued a marriage license to a gay couple in 1975 after receiving approval from the District Attorney.[1]

Clela Rorex
Known forWrote the first same-marriage license in the United States.
Academic background
EducationB.A., University of Colorado

Early life[edit]

Clela Rorex was born in 1943 and grew up in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. Her father was the Routt county, Colorado clerk for 30 years.[2]

Education and early career[edit]

Rorex attended the University of Colorado on a Methodist scholarship. She then married a naval officer and spent 3 years with him while he was stationed at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, before returning to Boulder.[2]

After working a few summers in her father's office, Rorex decided to run for Boulder county clerk when the incumbent, Henry Putnam, announced his retirement. She decided to run after attending a meeting in which members of the Democratic Party stated that they "needed a man" to run against the female Republican candidate.[2] Rorex shared her frustrations over hearing this with women in a feminist group she was a member of, and ultimately decided to run herself. She was elected and took office in 1975 at age 31. Henry Putnam would not vacate the office and had to be removed by the sheriff's office.[2]

Issuance of same-sex marriage licenses[edit]

Rorex had only held the position of clerk for 3 months when two men, Dave McCord and Dave Zamora,[2][3] came to the clerk's office to apply for a marriage license.[4] They had originally applied in Colorado Springs, where there were told to go to Boulder; El Paso County didn't do "that type of thing."[2][5]

After Rorex inquired into the legality of issuing the license, District Attorney Alex Hunter and first assistant DA Bill Wise[6] wrote an opinion stating that Colorado law did not specify whether marriage must be between a man and a woman.[2][5][7] Rorex was told it was within her legal right to decide if she wanted to issue the license or not, and thus, the decision was left up to the newly elected clerk.[2] Rorex issued the license on March 26, 1975.[8] She went on to issue five more same-sex marriage licenses in Boulder[7] before the Colorado Attorney General forced her to stop.[2] She received a great deal of hate mail and angry phone calls.[9]

The Boulder County Courthouse was added to the National Register of Historic Places in part because of the marriage licenses Rorex issued.[10][11] In June 2018, Boulder replaced an image of Roswell "Ross" Howard and his horse, Dolly, with a photo of Rorex.[12] After Rorex issued same-sex marriage licenses, Howard showed up at the courthouse with Dolly and asked for a license to marry his horse.[12] Rorex said she declined his request on the basis that his 8-year-old horse was "underage" and could not marry without written consent from her parents.[12][13][5][3]


Rorex resigned from office about two and a half years into her term. She married and moved to California in order to avoid the harassment of her decision to issue the license[2] Rorex never held elected office again.[8][2]

Later career[edit]

Rorex returned to Colorado after her marriage ended and obtained two master's degrees. She worked as legal administrator for the Native American Rights Fund in Boulder[5][13] for 18 years. After retiring around 2011, she spoke at public schools on panels composed of people of different gender identities. She considers herself an “ally for gay rights and marriage equality”.[2]

See also[edit]

  • Hillary Hall -- 21st century Boulder County clerk known for issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples


  1. ^ a b "Colo. Clerk Recalls Issuing Same-Sex-Marriage Licenses — In 1975". Retrieved 2018-05-14.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Harris, Kyle (2014-08-13). "Clela Rorex Planted the Flag for Same-Sex Marriage in Boulder Forty Years Ago". Westword. Retrieved 2018-06-23.
  3. ^ a b "40 years later, story of a same-sex marriage in Colo. remains remarkable". Washington Post. Retrieved 2018-07-20.
  4. ^ "How One Woman Married Gay Couples Forty Years Ago". Esquire. 2016-06-24. Retrieved 2018-07-20.
  5. ^ a b c d "San Francisco not the first to marry couples of the same gender". SFGate. 2004-02-14. Retrieved 2018-07-20.
  6. ^ Brennan, Charlie (2013-04-19). "Boulder civil union event adds layer of living history, with former clerk Rorex to attend". The Boulder Daily Camera. Retrieved 2020-07-01.
  7. ^ a b "Meet the Clerk Who Started the Same-Sex Marriage Revolution | The Takeaway | WNYC Studios". wnycstudios. Retrieved 2018-07-20.
  8. ^ a b "Boulder's LGBT history: from 'the Hate State' to the Supreme Court -". 2016-09-01. Retrieved 2018-06-23.
  9. ^ "Colo. Clerk Recalls Issuing Same-Sex-Marriage Licenses — In 1975". Retrieved 2018-07-20.
  10. ^ "Boulder courthouse up for historic designation for Clela Rorex's same-sex marriage licenses in 1975". Retrieved 2018-07-20.
  11. ^ "Boulder County Courthouse gets federal nod for role in state's LGBTQ history". Retrieved 2018-08-17.
  12. ^ a b c "Man and horse ride into sunset as Boulder County updates photo collage". Retrieved 2018-07-20.
  13. ^ a b "Clela Rorex: Gay marriage pioneer". Daily Kos. Retrieved 2018-07-20.