Colorado courthouse honored for issuing gay marriage licenses — in 1975

The Boulder County Courthouse has been added to the National Park Service’s National Register of Historic Places for its role in LGBTQ history.
Image: Boulder County Courthouse
Boulder County CourthouseJordan McAlister / Flickr Vision
By Gwen Aviles

Colorado’s Boulder County Courthouse has joined New York’s Stonewall Inn, the Dr. Franklin E. Kameny Residence in Washington, D.C., and just a handful of other places that have been recognized by the federal government for their contributions to LGBTQ history. The courthouse on Friday was honored with a plaque that acknowledges its addition to the National Register of Historic Places.

“I want this plaque to symbolize … a notice that people who are in the LGBT community are safe here in Boulder County,” Clela Rorex, who served as the Boulder County Clerk in the 1970s, told NBC’s local Denver affiliate on Friday.

Clela Rorex, who was elected and served as Boulder County clerk and recorder in the 1970s, in Boulder, Colorado, on July 2, 2014.Brennan Linsley / AP file

In 1975, Rorex, just a few months into her county clerk job, was approached by a gay couple who asked if she would issue them a marriage license. 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 granted the men’s request.

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As word spread, more gay couples came to her asking for marriage licenses. She granted six in total before Colorado’s attorney general ordered her to stop, saying the licenses were not valid.

Rorex, who said she faced gender discrimination from the local Democratic party when she ran for county clerk in 1974, said she wanted to show solidarity with same-sex couples.

"As a woman, I'm asking for my equal rights," Rorex, now 75, said at Friday’s ceremony. "How can I deny someone else? It just felt like the right thing to do. I've never changed my mind. All these years, I never wished I hadn't made that decision."

Though her time issuing same-sex marriage licenses was short-lived, her contribution to LGBTQ equality has been pivotal. And in a poetic reminder of how far Colorado — and the country — has come on gay rights since 1975, Friday’s event honoring Rorex and the courthouse was attended by Colorado Governor Jared Polis, the first openly gay man ever elected governor in the U.S.

“It’s so exciting to acknowledge Boulder County’s role in the history of the equality movement,” Polis said at the event, according to local news site Daily Camera. “Clela was truly ahead of her time.”

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Associated Press contributed.