Clela Rorex, a former Colorado county clerk considered a pioneer in the gay rights movement for being the first public official to issue a same-sex marriage license in 1975, has died. She was 78. Rorex died Sunday of complications from recent surgery at a hospice care facility in Longmont, the Daily Camera reports. Rorex was a newly elected Boulder County clerk when a gay couple denied a marriage license elsewhere sought her help in March 1975. She told the AP in 2014 that she saw a parallel with the women’s movement and found nothing in state law preventing it.
The then-31-year-old agreed and, in the end, issued a total of six licenses to gay couples before Colorado’s attorney general at the time ordered her to stop. State and federal law didn’t recognize gay marriage at the time. Rorex recalled that she had little public support and didn’t challenge the attorney general. A recall effort was launched against Rorex, a single mother and University of Colorado graduate student. Suffering from chronic migraines and dealing with hate mail, she resigned halfway through her term. Colorado legalized gay marriage in 2014 after a state court and a Denver federal court struck down a 2006 ban enacted by state voters.
Jared Polis, Colorado’s first openly gay governor, paid tribute to Rorex upon learning of her passing, the AP reports. "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," Polis wrote on Facebook. "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." In later years, Rorex advocated for gay and lesbian rights, speaking in schools and expressing exasperation with the slow pace of change. The county courthouse in Boulder where she issued the licenses has been added to the National Register of Historic Places.
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