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Beauty and the Bestiality

Quit horsing around, Bob Beauprez!

Boulder has never been particularly kind to Republicans, but Bob Beauprez owes District Attorney Mary Lacy a box of chocolates. Because without John Mark Karr, Beauprez's running mate might still be stumbling through the headlines.

Last Wednesday morning, the media was all over first-term Mesa County commissioner Janet Rowland, whose major qualifications for the lieutenant governor post seem to be her gender, Western Slope address and healthy disdain for animal husbandry. "Homosexuality is an alternative lifestyle," she told Channel 6's audience last spring. "That doesn't make it a marriage. For some people, bestiality is an alternative lifestyle. Do we allow a man to marry a sheep?"

But word of Karr's detention in Thailand that afternoon wiped Rowland right out of the news.

Not from memory, however. When Clela Rorex first learned of Rowland's views on same-sex marriage, she couldn't believe it. "I was reading the paper during lunch hour and was completely shocked," she says. "It's still stunning to me that people make those kind of inane comments."

She heard plenty of them thirty years ago, when, as Boulder's clerk and recorder, she issued marriage licenses to a handful of same-sex couples -- the first official in the country to do so. Homosexuality was big news in Boulder back in 1975, and then-mayor Penfield Tate had alerted Rorex, who was just sworn in that January, that the issue of same-sex marriage might come up. Two months later it did, when two men were directed to her office by a conservative clerk in Colorado Springs. "They do that kind of thing in Boulder," the clerk told them.

"Honestly, I was pretty young," says Rorex, who went on to get her master's in both public administration and legal administration and has been with the Native American Rights Fund's Boulder office since 1992. "I had no real political background; I was not a political animal when I ran for that office. I didn't even know any gays or lesbians. I didn't know anything about the issue. I just operated from gut instinct."

And her gut told her to give a license to two men who loved each other and wanted to get married. "It felt like the right thing to do," she recalls, "but I couldn't have articulated why in 1975." She can today.

"Over all of these years, I've watched this issue, because of the place I was at that time -- the accidental moment of history I was involved in -- and I've grown to become a real staunch crusader for same-sex marriages," Rorex says. "I'm continually surprised that it has taken so long for people to give equal rights to same-sex partnerships."

And unlike Rowland, she never worried that recognizing such a basic right would open the door to bestiality.

But even thirty years ago, Boulder had more than its share of crackpots. And on April 15, 1975, a notorious media hound showed up in front of the clerk's office with both a horse trailer and the media in tow, and posed this question for the cameras: "If a boy can marry a boy and a girl can marry a girl, why can't a lonesome old cowboy get hitched to his favorite saddle mare?"

"He had it all staged, all planned," Rorex says of the late Roswell Howard. "The minute that I saw him pulling up, I just knew what was happening. Luckily, I had a few minutes to prepare."

So when Howard walked in and told Rorex that he'd like to marry Dolly, his horse, she went over the marriage-license application line by line. And when she got to the line about age, and Howard said that his intended was just eight, Rorex had to break the news that the horse was too young to marry without written parental consent.

Neigh.

"In retrospect, when I think about the horse incident, it brought a level of common sense to things," Rorex says. She'd been inundated with hate mail, Boulder was being compared to Sodom and Gomorrah, and state legislators had demanded that Attorney General J.D. MacFarlane study the legalities of same-sex marriage. But Howard's horsing around "truly tempered it, and more people saw it from a human perspective."

More people -- but not Rowland, then still a kid and blissfully unaware of the dangers of sheep thrills. "When she says something like this," Rorex says, "in my heart all I hope it does is make people shake their heads at the stupidity of remarks like that, and make them even more aware that ballot issues address human rights. That's my hope. And I certainly hope that the domestic-partnership bill will pass."

On Thursday, just as Boulder DA Lacy was holding her non-news news conference, Colorado Secretary of State Gigi Dennis announced that Amendment 45 would be on the November ballot, the eighth and last citizen initiative to make the cut. Although its sponsors subsequently withdrew the initiative, the domestic-partnership proposal lives on in Referendum 1, a bipartisan measure that came out of the Colorado Legislature and would allow a committed couple to enter into a binding contract. Not a marriage, not a pet-sitting operation, but a legal partnership.

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