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Honoring Clela Rorex: Gay Rights Hero Issued First Same-Sex Marriage Licenses in Colorado

Published Wednesday, Mar. 29th, 2023

Photo: Los Angeles Blade / Screenshot of news footage/ YouTube

Last week, Democrats in The United States House of Representatives and Senate introduced a pair of resolutions to honor former county clerk Clela Rorex with her own holiday – called ‘Clela Rorex Day.’


(We’ll keep you posted on the resolutions’ progress. In the meantime, you can read H. RES. 248 sponsored by Rep. Joe Neguse & S. RES. 118 sponsored by Sen. Michael F. Bennet.)


But who was Clela Rorex? And what did she do to deserve such lasting recognition? 


Let’s take a look! 


Headshot of Clela Rorex in the 1970s while serving as Boulder County Clerk in Colorado
Clela Rorex in the 1970s / Photo: Out Boulder County / Westword



Clela Rorex: Pioneering County Clerk & Gay Marriage Advocate


Clela Rorex made national news in 1975 while serving as the Boulder County Clerk in Colorado, when she issued the first same-sex marriage license in the U.S.


At the time, one other same-sex marriage license had been issued in the country (to two men in Pheonix, Arizona), but that license had been revoked soon after. So, when Rorex was contacted by two men – Dave McCord and Dave Zamora – who asked if she would grant them a license, she found herself in a unique position.


Rorex had only been Clerk for a couple months when the two men approached her, but she was familiar with the civil rights movement and the important role a county clerk played in a community. She was the daughter of a county clerk (Cecil Rorex of Routt County) and an active feminist, and had decided to run for the office when members of her local Democratic Party wrongly insisted that only a man was fit for the role. (via NYT)  


When the gay couple approached her, she knew her decision mattered. 


Rorex reviewed the current Colorado marriage laws and consulted with the district attorney’s office (then DA Alex Hunter and ADA William C. Wise). They saw no reason why the couple couldn’t be married under Colorado law, Wise wrote a favorable opinion of the choice, and Rorex issued the men their marriage license.



William Wise said of the decision in 2013, “I think Clela was a very good county clerk, and she was ahead of her time by about 35 years.” (via DailyCamera)



It was a groundbreaking moment – one that was met with very mixed results. Some saw Rorex as a hero in the civil rights movement for championing gay rights and marriage equality. But others responded with angry letters, protests, a recall effort to remove her from office, and even death threats. 


Still, Clela Rorex went on to issue five more same-sex marriage licenses amidst the controversy, before the former state attorney general, J.D. MacFarlane, stepped in to make such licenses illegal.


“My decision was based on what I thought was equitable,” Rorex is quoted as saying. “Someone stood before me asking for equal rights, I just couldn’t make a judgment to say no.” (via Law Week Colorado)


Clela Rorex stayed in office until 1977, when she could no longer handle the frequent hate mail and threats. She resigned and moved to California with her soon-to-be husband, and didn’t run for public office again.


Same-sex marriage became legal in Colorado on October 7th, 2014, when a state ban was struck down in district court. 


Clela Rorex passed away in 2022 – still a hero to many in the LGBTQ+ community – at the age of 78.



Photo of Clela Rorex later in life.

Clela Rorex / Photo: Dignity Memorial





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Jessica Levey
Jessica Levey

Lead Staff Writer & Illustrator

Jessica loves exploring the history and magic of ritual, the connections between people and places, and sharing true stories about love and commitment. She's an advocate for marriage equality, LGBTQ+ rights, and individuality, and is an ordained Minister with AMM. When she’s not writing or illustrating for AMM, she enjoys city hikes, fantasy novels, comics, and traveling.

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