Pioneering Boulder clerk who issued same-sex marriage licenses in 1975 dies

The Boulder County clerk who in 1975 became the first government official in the United States to knowingly issue same-sex marriage licenses died on Sunday.

Clela Rorex, 78, died in Longmont in hospice care after suffering complications following surgery, according to Out Boulder County, a nonprofit advocacy group.

She was a pioneer of LGBTQ rights and issued marriage licenses to six same-sex couples four decades before the U.S. Supreme Court legalized the practice.

In March 1975, Rorex was only three months into her new job as Boulder County’s elected clerk and recorder when she was approached by a gay couple who sought a marriage license. The men, David McCord and David Zamora, had been turned away from the clerk’s office in El Paso County.

Rorex checked with the Boulder County district attorney’s office and was told nothing in the state’s marriage code explicitly prohibited same-sex marriages. She then issued the marriage license to the men. Her decision made national headlines, and she issued five more marriage licenses to same-sex couples — including to Anthony Sullivan and Richard Adams, who saw Rorex mentioned as the butt of the joke on the Johnny Carson show and immediately decided to fly to Colorado from California to seek a marriage license.

Attorney General J.D. MacFarlane eventually ordered Rorex to stop issuing same-sex marriage licenses, saying such unions were not legal.

At the time, Rorex faced significant threats, hate mail and persecution, she told The Denver Post in 2014, recounting how churches said she was “creating a Sodom and Gomorrah” and the local Democratic party was “very upset” with her. Residents called for her to be recalled, and she eventually resigned.

“She was 40 years ahead of her time, issuing those licenses,” said Mardi Moore, executive director of Out Boulder County. The Boulder County courthouse where Rorex worked has since been added to the National Historic Register as an important place in the history of LGBTQ rights.

Rorex remained an ally to the LGBTQ community until her death, Moore said.

“Clela was always proud of me, and of our community,” she said. “And coming from families that aren’t necessarily proud of you, having that be stated and said over and over again changes how people think about themselves … She was always thinking, figuring out what she could do to make the world better.”

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