Clela Rorex, who issued the first same-sex marriage licenses, dies

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BOULDER, Colo. (UKTN) — Clela Rorex, a former Colorado county clerk considered a pioneer in the gay rights movement for being the first official to issue a same-sex marriage license in 1975, has died. She was 78 years old.

Rorex died of complications from recent surgery at a hospice in Longmont on Sunday, the Daily Camera reported.

Rorex was a newly elected Boulder County clerk when a gay couple were denied a marriage license elsewhere and sought her help in March 1975. She told The UK Time News in 2014 that she saw a parallel with the women’s movement and nothing in state law prevented it.

The then 31-year-old woman agreed and ultimately issued a total of six licenses to same-sex couples before the then Colorado attorney general ordered her to stop.

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State and federal laws did not recognize same-sex marriage at the time. Rorex recalled that she had little public support and did not challenge the attorney general.

A recall effort has been launched against Rorex, a single mother and graduate student at the University of Colorado. Suffering from chronic migraines and dealing with hate mail, she resigned halfway through her term.

Colorado legalized same-sex marriage in 2014 after a state court and federal court in Denver overturned a 2006 ban enacted by voters in the state. A 2015 U.S. Supreme Court ruling recognized this fundamental right nationwide.

Jared Polis, Colorado’s first openly gay governor, paid tribute to Rorex upon learning of his passing.

“His certification of same-sex marriages (until the Attorney General shut it down) was a pivotal moment in the long fight for marriage equality that led to Obergefell versus Hodges in 2015, which legalized equal marriage. nationwide wedding,” Polis wrote on Facebook. “So many families, including First Gentleman Marlon Reis and myself, are grateful for the visionary leadership of Clela Rorex, a woman ahead of her time.”

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Glenda Russell, a retired writer and historian of the LGTBQ community, told the camera that Rorex faced significant backlash after issuing the first license.

“At the time, nationally, most people didn’t take it too seriously because they weren’t worried about it happening again, but in Boulder the reaction was forceful and mean-spirited. She was struck by all the homophobia and heterosexism that the LGBTQ community faced,” Russell said.

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Later, Rorex advocated for gay and lesbian rights, speaking out in schools and expressing exasperation at the slow pace of change.

According to Out Boulder County, an LGTBQ advocacy organization, Rorex was born in Denver on July 23, 1943. She earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Colorado before running for the position of clerk and county clerk. After resigning from her clerkship in 1977, she earned postgraduate degrees and served as the legal administrator of the Native American Rights Fund.

A celebration of life was scheduled for July 23, Out Boulder County said.

The Boulder County Courthouse where she issued the licenses has been added to the National Register of Historic Places.

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