Clela Rorex, a pioneering LGBTQ+ ally from Boulder County, dies at 78

Courtesy of Chris Cleary
Clela Rorex, who issued the first same-sex marriage license in Colorado, died at the age of 78.

Clela Rorex, a former Boulder County clerk and recorder who is said to be the first person to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, died Sunday.

Rorex died in Longmont in hospice care. She was 78.

The former clerk was born in Denver in 1943 and moved to Steamboat Springs after being adopted. She received her bachelor's degree from the University of Colorado Boulder in 1970 following a stint outside the country as the wife of a naval officer. 

Rorex made headlines in March 1975, less than three months after she won the county clerk election, when a gay couple from Colorado Springs entered her office requesting a marriage license.  

“They were filing for homestead rights, and that requires a marriage,” Rorex told Colorado Matters in 2014. “To me it was a logical decision. It seemed, it was allowed by law, that if two people of the same sex wanted to get married, they should be allowed to get married.”

Rorex issued marriage licenses to six same-sex couples before the state’s attorney general stepped in and stopped her.   

Rorex, a straight woman, received threats and condemnations after news broke that she was issuing the licenses. 

“I immediately faced such a huge onslaught of hate that I was going to be ruining property values,” she told Colorado Matters. “All these gays would be flocking here to Boulder, Colorado, and it's gonna damage the city. There was an automatic assumption by many people that I was a lesbian and that's why I did it.”

Rorex resigned from her post in 1977 and didn’t enter the world of politics again. However, that didn’t stop her advocating for the LGBTQ+ community.

Glenda Russell, a Boulder historian who has written about the city’s queer history, said Rorex described herself as an “accidental activist” and gradually grew into her role as an ally. 

“She came to embrace it as a way to define what was important to her in her life and the kind of person she wanted to be,” Russell said. “She wanted to be somebody who had courage to go against the grain, and she wanted to be somebody who could take the kind of stand that she in fact took.”

Rorex became known in Boulder for showing up to every Pride parade, volunteering for LGBTQ+ services, and signing up to be a witness for as many same-sex courthouse marriages as possible. 

Mardi Moore, executive director of LGBTQ+ advocacy non-profit Out Boulder County, said even in hospice, Rorex’s dedication to the queer community didn’t waver. 

“One of the last meetings she had in hospice was a man that she knew since he was a young kid,” Moore said. “He came to say his goodbyes, and in the conversation let her know one of his kids was trans and [the transition] had just happened. And Clela spent that time letting this man and his wife know about all the resources to let him know their kid was OK, to let him know about resources for the kid.”

One of her final requests was to meet Governor Jared Polis, the first openly gay man to be elected governor of a U.S. state, and First Gentleman Marlon Reis to congratulate them on their 2021 marriage. 

After Rorex died, the governor paid tribute to her on social media.

“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,” he wrote on Facebook

The Boulder County Courthouse was recently listed in the National Register of Historic Places to recognize its significance in LGBTQ+ history. The marriage licenses Rorex issued are currently on display at History Colorado’s Rainbows and Revolutions exhibit through the end of the year. 

Out Boulder County said Rorex’s celebration of life will be held on what would have been her 79th birthday, on July 23, 2022. Details of the celebration are forthcoming.