Clela Rorex
Clela Rorex

Couples seeking a civil union license in Boulder County at midnight May 1 will not only be a part of history; they can share the moment with a woman who embodies Colorado's history relating to same-sex equity.

Clela Rorex, the former Boulder County clerk and recorder who gained fame -- notoriety, some would say -- for briefly awarding same-sex marriage licenses in 1975, will be on hand the night of April 30 as couples obtain civil union licenses.

"I'm just thrilled to be able to be there for this occasion because it's so huge for everybody and it is huge for me, too," Rorex said.

"I have to admit it is huge, 30 years or more later, after I issued a first marriage license and, of course, I wish this were marriage, not just civil union. But I have hope that that day will come, sooner rather than later. But just to be there for the occasion ... I'm so excited."

Rorex, now 69, has been living recently in Atwood, Kan., but is moving back to Colorado and has secured an apartment in Longmont. She expects to be moved in by the end of this month.

"I guess I'm just a Colorado girl, and not a Kansas girl," she said.

While all counties in Colorado will start issuing civil union licenses May 1 as a result of the state Legislature passing Senate Bill 13-011 earlier this year, Boulder and Denver counties are getting a head start on the state's other 62 counties by opening at midnight on that date.


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Although the law does not require a ceremony to make a civil union official, nor a third party to lead one, people may still opt to have one. The LGBT advocacy group Out Boulder has arranged for several potential officiants to be there that night at the County Clerk and Recorder's Office, 1750 33rd St.

Rorex will be among those available to officiate any couple's union, should they want that, on the spot. She said two women texted her Tuesday with the request that she preside over their commitment .

"I'm not quite sure what that's going to consist of, but I'm certainly honored that they did ask me," Rorex said.

Rorex, newly elected to office at the time, earned national news coverage in 1975 by issuing marriage licenses to about a half-dozen same-sex couples. She did so based on the advice of Bill Wise, then first assistant under District Attorney Alex Hunter, who told her there was nothing he could see in the law prohibiting her from doing so.

That came to a quick halt, however, based on an opinion issued by the Colorado Attorney General's Office that state law implied a requirement that married couples, in fact, be heterosexual. The opinion asserted that it was misleading for Rorex's office to suggest that same-sex couples could marry and enjoy the same legal rights.

Rorex's place in history was further cemented when she denied a license to a man named Roswell Howard who showed up with a horse, wanting to marry the animal. She said she rejected the request based on the horse being under-age.

"One of the questions (required to be answered by licensees) was that the people had to be 18, and so we just kind of knew that a horse's age probably wasn't going to be that," Rorex recalled.

She said she ran through the questions "calmly" with Howard, "until we got to the age question. I asked the age of Dolly, the horse, and he said 8, and I just put down my pen and said, 'I'm sorry, I can't issue a license for someone that age without parental consent.'

"It was probably the fastest time I ever had to think on my feet."

Wise, now retired, thought it was appropriate that Rorex will be part of the civil union festivities -- which will include cake, sparkling cider and a disc jockey in the Houston Room at the county offices, starting at 11:30 p.m. April 30.

"I think Clela was a very good county clerk, and she was ahead of her time by about 35 years," Wise said.

Her presence is welcomed by Aicila Lewis, executive director of Out Boulder.

"People are inspired by what she did," Lewis said. "She did it because it was the right thing to do. She didn't know any gay people, that she knew of, at the time. She was simply one of those rare, thoughtful folks who could look at the issue and evaluate it outside of the prejudice of the day, and say, 'I cannot accept it. It is wrong.'

"That is the kind of thing that's larger than any one movement. Those are the people who are actually going to change things for everyone."

Rorex moved to California in 1977 and did not complete her only term in office.

Contact Camera Staff Writer Charlie Brennan at 303-473-1327 or brennanc@dailycamera.com.