A county clerk who made history in the 1970's by issuing marriage certificates to LGBT couples has passed away at the age of 78.
Clela Rorex, who served as a county clerk in Boulder, Colorado for two and a half years in the 1970's and made history by being the first public official to issue a same-sex marriage license, has passed away. The 78 year old died on Sunday at a hospice care facility in Longmont, Colorado after suffering from complications from a recent surgery.
According to the Huffington Post, a celebration of Rorex's life is planned for July 23, what would have been her 79th birthday. Meanwhile, the county courthouse in Boulder where she issued marriage certificates to LGBT couples almost 50 years ago has been added to the National Register of Historic Places.
Who Is Clela Rorex?
Born in 1943, Rorex was adopted at a young age by Ruby and Cecil Rorex. Ruby was a teacher and dance instructor, while Cecil was a former mining worker who later became a clerk of Routt County, Colorado. Together, they raised Rorex in Steamboat Springs, the New York Times reported.
Rorex went on to earn a bachelor's degree at the University of Colorado and a second degree in legal administration at the University of Denver in the 1980s. Growing up in a town with a predominantly White population, she never witnessed discrimination. That was until she traveled to Guantanamo Bay, where her first husband was stationed and witnessed segregation of people by race.
When Rorex returned to the U.S., she became involved in the women's movement. She later decided to run for county clerk when she witnessed a Democratic Party meeting wherein they were trying to find a suitable candidate for the female Republican candidate. At the time, they wanted a male candidate to go up against the female Republican candidate. Rorex complained to her friends about such discrimination against women, who suggested that she run for the position. She won.
How She Advocated for Gender Equality
Rorex was just a newly elected Boulder County clerk when a gay couple who applied for a marriage license in Colorado Springs had been rejected came to her office in March 1975. It was then she saw the parallels of the women's movement and the LGBT rights movement.
Upon finding that Colorado law had nothing against issuing marriage licenses to LGBT couples, Rorex agreed to give the two men a marriage license. In total, she issued six marriage licenses to LGBT couples, including Richard Adams and Tony Sullivan. However, Colorado's attorney general ordered her to stop, as state and federal law did not recognize marriage between LGBT individuals at the time.
Rorex admitted that she received hate mail and death threats after issuing marriage certificates to LGBT couples, leading her to suffer from chronic migraines. A recall effort was also launched against her as she tried to juggle working as a county clerk and being a single mother. She resigned just halfway through her term.
Clela Rorex Obituary
Upon learning of Rorex's passing, Colorado's first openly gay governor Jared Polis took to Facebook to pay tribute to the woman who is considered a pioneer in the gay rights movement. The 47 year old Democratic leader and father of two wrote, "Her certification of same-sex marriages (until the Attorney General shut her down) was a pivotal moment in the long struggle for marriage equality that led to Obergefell v. Hodges in 2015, which legalized marriage equality nationally."
"So many families, including First Gentleman Marlon Reis and I, are grateful for the visionary leadership of Clela Rorex, a woman ahead of her time," Gov. Polis concluded. After Rorex's short but meaningful stint as a county clerk, she advocated for LGBT rights by speaking in schools and expressing dissatisfaction with the slow pace of change.
Documentary: The Life of Clela Rorex
Back in 2015, PBS released a five-minute special on Rorex through its "Independent Lens" series. The special focused on actor and LGBT activist George Takei's "One Man's Journey: A Conversation with George Takei" talk at the Wells Fargo Theater in September 2010, in which Rorex was a guest speaker. The now 85 year old actor described Rorex as a "real trailblazer in marriage equality" and a "courageous and principled county clerk."
After becoming involved in the women's rights movement, Rorex was elected as a county clerk. It was then she encountered the two men who sought a marriage license. She recalled, "I had never had a hint that the subject of gay marriage would come up. But in 1975, a gay couple came to me and asked for a marriage license. I was being faced a profound moral issue of would I discriminate against two people of the same sex when I had been so involved for the last few years of my life of fighting discrimination against women?"