Boulder clerk gave 1st U.S. gay marriage license

Posted at 5:32 PM, Sep 10, 2015
and last updated 2015-09-10 19:32:07-04

Sometimes we don't know our own courage until adversity stares us in the face. For Clela Rorex, that moment came in 1975 when the then newly elected Boulder County Clerk issued the first gay marriage license in the country.

"I was not prepared for the degree of hate," Rorex said.

Rorex said she was just doing her job on an issue before its time. 

"I was very lonely in that decision. Even the gay community was not there to support it.  They weren't together yet, they weren't organized," Rorex recalled.

The backlash was swift.  The single mother remembered receiving hundreds of letters, some in support of her decision, but many against it.

"Too bad you have to die because of the deeds you have done," Rorex read from one.

"How can any decent person be involved in such filth," she read from another.

The phone calls came too. Strangers on the other end of the phone spewing hateful messages to whomever picked up.

"They didn't care if my son Scott answered the phone, they'd just spew it forth. What I was scared of is the fact that I was a single parent, and that I'd need to find another job and that indeed proved difficult," Rorex said.

Over the two-month period, Rorex issued a total of six licenses to same-sex couples. Her decision made national and international headlines.  She recalled a day when media cameras again focused on her  when an old cowboy road up on his horse, Dolly, looking for a marriage license.

"I saw out of my window a horse trailer pulling up with media trucks around him. We got to the age of the bride and he said he thought Dolly was about 8 years old. I just laid down my pen and said, 'Well Dolly is too young at eight without getting parental permission,'" Rorex said.

Now, the media is again focused on another clerk. Rowan County Clerk, Kim Davis, who was jailed for contempt after refusing to issue licenses to gay couples in Kentucky. It's a decision Rorex just doesn't understand.

"I've been very upset seeing that.  Where does one's personal religious belief end when other lives are at stake and other issues of fairness are at stake," Rorex asked.

It's a fairness that's kept Rorex's conscious clear for 40 years, and a moment met with fearlessness that's forever  changed her life.

"I don't know that at the time I identified myself as particularly courageous, but it did do that for me. I was able to survive. I can honestly say, I have never for a single moment regretted that decision," she said.

Thursday, September 10, from 4:30 to 7:30, the Museum of Boulder is featuring the Allies in Action exhibit commemorating this history.  It'll include speeches from former Colorado Supreme Court Justice Jean Dubofsky, Boulder queer historian Dr. Glenda Russell, Out Boulder Executive Director Mardi Moore, queer researcher and author of the forthcoming book detailing the story of the licenses Shawn Fettig, and Clela Rorex herself.