As Clela Rorex sits back and watches the national debate unfold over same-sex marriage, she smiles. She's seen it all before. After all, the former Boulder County, Colo., clerk and recorder issued marriage licenses to same-sex couples back in 1975. "Politicians in '75 didn't want to touch this with a 10-foot pole, not even Democrats," Rorex said Sunday, a day that saw hundreds of gay and lesbian couples lined up in San Francisco to get marriage licenses.
As a newly elected political rookie in 1975, Rorex was approached by a same-sex couple who asked if she would issue them a marriage license. They told her they had been denied by a clerk in El Paso County. After securing a legal opinion from the Boulder County district attorney at the time, who said state law did not preclude issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, Rorex issued the license. "I issued licenses because I didn't want to be legislating morality," Rorex said, adding she knew little about homosexuality at the time and did not know many gay people.
Once the media latched on to the issue, though, hate mail and calls from state politicians started pouring in, Rorex said. As word spread, more gay couples came to her asking for licenses, and she would grant them. She said she issued licenses to about a half dozen gay couples in early 1975. "The state legislature was all in a panic over this, needless to say," Rorex said. "Even some of the Democratic legislators at the time were very critical of me issuing licenses because they did not want to have to address the issue, so they were trying to avoid it like crazy."
Legislators then asked for a legal opinion from the state attorney general at the time, J.D. MacFarlane. He said Sunday that his office drafted an opinion that state law was clear on the issue and that marriage is a union between a man and a woman. The same-sex licenses were deemed void. "The statute was so clear, there wasn't any real question of interpreting it, " MacFarlane said. "It wasn't ambiguous, as far as I recall."
Soon after, Rorex stopped issuing licenses. She recalled that a man even came in trying to get a license for himself and his horse; Rorex told him the horse was too young to get married without parental consent. "After I stopped, the furor kind of died down," she said. "I was just so inundated with mostly hate mail during that time period. It was really incredible the letters I got." Rorex said she believes all the couples she licensed went ahead and got married, but she does not know what happened to them.
Rorex said she's enjoying the current debate over same-sex marriage and applauds the politicians who stand up in favor of it. It also helps her put her role in the debate into perspective. "I am prouder now than I ever comprehended then," Rorex said.