Clela Rorex Planted the Flag for Same-Sex Marriage in Boulder Forty Years Ago
On June 25, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals struck down Utah's gay-marriage ban, setting a precedent for states in its jurisdiction, including Colorado, where voters had adopted a ban on same-sex marriages in 2006. Hours later, Boulder County Clerk Hillary Hall began issuing same-sex marriage licenses. For weeks, Colorado Attorney General John Suthers threatened Hall with legal action for violating state law. Her office warded him off in court and issued over 200 licenses before the Colorado Supreme Court finally announced on July 29 that it would consider Suthers's arguments in late 2014 -- and ordered Hall to stop issuing licenses in the meantime. Meanwhile, the Utah case has been appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.
This summer, Clela Rorex has been watching history repeat itself. Thirty-nine years ago, she was not just the first Boulder county clerk to issue same-sex marriage licenses, but the first clerk to do so anywhere in the country.
The political climate has changed over the past forty years, she says. Today there is support for same-sex marriage, and for Hall. Back in 1975, Rorex's actions left her alone. The Democrats abandoned her. The gay community never showed up. The political establishment ostracized her. Even her beloved feminist movement frowned on her stance.
We recently met with Rorex to learn how what she describes as "a moment of courage" shifted the course of her life.
Clela Rorex: I was never the kind of person who thought I would run for political office, but I was an active citizen in the '70s. I went to a Democratic powers-that-be meeting. The Boulder county clerk, who had held the office for thirty years, part of the Republican Party, was retiring. The candidate for the Republican Party was a woman who had been there for several years as a deputy. The Democrats met and tried to discuss whether or not to put anyone up against her. I happened to go to that meeting.
There was a young guy in the crowd that they were trying to talk into running for county clerk. He said, "Oh, I just don't see myself in that position. That's not a position I want." The meeting went on. They said, "We need a man to run against the Republican candidate."
I was so irritated that I went back to my feminist group and related that. I said, "Here we can't have one woman running for office. The Democrats think it has to be a man to in order to win the office."
My friend said, "Well, if you feel that way about it, why don't you run for office?"
I said, "I think I will." I know a little something about county clerks, because my father had been a county clerk in Routt County, over by Steamboat, for thirty years. I worked a couple summers with him in the office. So I ran as this young, feminist woman. I was a single parent.
I had no idea how to run a campaign, and neither did my friends. We were pretty much on our own, because I wasn't getting much support from the Democratic Party. They were mad when I declared my candidacy. At the county assembly, they even went so far as to nominate a man from the floor who would run for office.
So I had a primary. My little group kind of grew. We did things, when we ran, in an unusual way. For instance, I had a brochure that was Japanese origami. I doubt anyone since has been crazy enough to try that for a political brochure. We sat around gluing that thing for hours and hours and hours. I just didn't have any kind of typical campaign at all.
Much to my surprise, I won the primary. I really was surprised to win the general. I took office.
The county clerk who was there at the time was Henry Putnam. I was sworn in and went to the office, and Henry Putnam would not turn over the keys to the safe. He wouldn't vacate the office. Sheriff's officers had to come and take him out. He was so mad I had won the job that they had to take him out of the office and get a locksmith to unlock the safe. That was how I began.
I was there about three months, and that was when the first two men from Colorado Springs came for a marriage license.
Before and during my own election, the city council in Boulder had been involved with a city ordinance designed to prohibit discrimination in housing and employment for the gay community. That created a huge uproar. I was not involved in that campaign at all. There was a recall election, and they recalled one of the city councilpeople over this city ordinance. The city of Boulder had been fighting already over the discrimination of gays.
That was pretty much my sole knowledge of anything related to the gay community....
The two Daves -- Dave McCord and Dave Zamora -- they went to their county clerk in Colorado Springs and asked for a marriage license. She said, "I don't do that here. Go to Boulder. They do that type of thing there." That statement was all based on what she had heard about the brouhaha over the city ordinance that Boulder had been trying to pass. So they came to Boulder and applied for a marriage license. They asked if they could have one, and I said, "I honestly don't know. I don't know if I can do this, but I will find out and get back with you."
I didn't just reject them immediately. I went to our district attorney, who at the time was Alex Hunter, and his deputy was Bill Wise. They researched Colorado marriage code and wrote an opinion to me that the marriage code did not, at that time, say anything about whether a marriage should be between a man and a woman. They said, "It doesn't specify. So if you want to go ahead and issue a license, you'd be within your legal right to do so. It's your decision."
I slept on it for a night or two -- I can't quite remember -- and called the guys up. They came back, and I issued them a license. I issued them a license because I felt deeply that it was just a fairness thing.
We were fighting as women for legal rights and equal rights. The gay community was kind of behind the women's movement, which was coming into its own in Boulder.
I did not know anybody in the gay movement. I really did not. I knew no gay couples whatsoever. I probably came across a couple of lesbian women in the feminist things we were doing around town, but didn't really know them.
So to me, it was pretty clear. It's not against the law. They're asking for this right. Who am I to say otherwise? I issued a license. That was how it started.
Continue for more of our interview with Clela Rorex.