Clela Rorex issued the first same-sex marriage license in the United States. Serving as the Boulder County Clerk, Rorex issued a marriage license to a gay couple in 1975 after receiving approval from the District Attorney.
Steamboat Springs, Colorado
|Known for||Wrote the first same-marriage license in the United States.|
|Education||B.A., University of Colorado|
Clela Rorex was born in 1943 and grew up in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. Her father was the Routt county, Colorado clerk for 30 years.
Education and Early Career
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.
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. 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.
Issuance of Same-Sex Marriage Licenses
Rorex had only held the position of clerk for 3 months when two men, Dave McCord and Dave Zamora, came to the clerk’s office to apply for a marriage license. 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."
After Rorex inquired into the legality of issuing the license, District Attorney Alex Hunter wrote an opinion stating that Colorado law did not specify whether marriage must be between a man and a woman. 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. Rorex issued the license on March 26, 1975. She went on to issue five more same-sex marriage licenses in Boulder before the Colorado Attorney General forced her to stop. She received a great deal of hate mail and angry phone calls.
The Boulder County Courthouse was added to the National Register of Historic Places in part because of the marriage licenses Rorex issued. In June 2018, Boulder replaced an image of Roswell "Ross" Howard and his horse, Dolly, with a photo of Rorex. After Rorex issued same-sex marriage licenses, Howard showed up at the courthouse with Dolly and asked for a license to marry his horse. 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.
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 Rorex never held elected office again.
Rorex returned to Colorado after her marriage ended and obtained two masters degrees. She worked as legal administrator for the Native American Rights Fund in Boulder 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”.
- "Colo. Clerk Recalls Issuing Same-Sex-Marriage Licenses — In 1975". NPR.org. Retrieved 2018-05-14.
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- "Meet the Clerk Who Started the Same-Sex Marriage Revolution | The Takeaway | WNYC Studios". wnycstudios. Retrieved 2018-07-20.
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- "Colo. Clerk Recalls Issuing Same-Sex-Marriage Licenses — In 1975". NPR.org. Retrieved 2018-07-20.
- "Boulder courthouse up for historic designation for Clela Rorex's same-sex marriage licenses in 1975". Retrieved 2018-07-20.
- "Boulder County Courthouse gets federal nod for role in state's LGBTQ history". Retrieved 2018-08-17.
- "Man and horse ride into sunset as Boulder County updates photo collage". Retrieved 2018-07-20.
- "Clela Rorex: Gay marriage pioneer". Daily Kos. Retrieved 2018-07-20.