Interviews

Clela Rorex Planted the Flag for Same-Sex Marriage in Boulder Forty Years Ago

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Where did it go from there? All hell broke loose, as you can imagine. I was not prepared. I knew it would be controversial, but I was totally unprepared for the onslaught of hate.

When I see the same kind of hate being spewed today, toward whatever marginalized group -- it could be at the border or same-sex couples trying to marry still -- it is something that has always upset me.

I hadn't lived very long in Boulder. I'd gone to school here, and I'd married. I'd returned to Boulder four years before. I came from being a military wife, a naval officer's wife stationed at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, for three years. You couldn't get more isolated than that.

Growing up in Steamboat when I did, it was a very small town. We had one black family. I have no idea if there were any gays or lesbians there. That was not even a word in my vocabulary. Looking back on it, I think my parents probably referred to lesbians as spinsters and gays as bachelors. I had no vocabulary for that.

When I lived in Guantánamo, that was the first time I had seen actual real discrimination. Our workers were all brought in from Jamaica. They were all black. They were segregated from the rest of the base, segregated in the back rows, in a special roped-off area when we went to the movie theater. That had an impact on me.

That was the kind of person I was becoming when I came back to Boulder and took office. I had this realization of what discrimination meant for people and how it would impact their lives to not have the same equal rights as other people. However, I had never been exposed to the hate that would emanate from those kinds of things. That was truly a shock for me -- the hate mail, the hate calls, the Boulder Camera and every place editorializing against me.

What did they say?

The Camera said I was going to create a haven for gays. They were going to be flocking here and taking over Boulder and lowering the property values. In Longmont, for instance, entire church congregations wrote letters to me about how I was creating a Sodom and Gomorrah and how this was a sin of God -- a lot of the same arguments that they use today, forty years later. I was just stunned by the hate.

It was automatically assumed by many that I was a lesbian myself and that I was helping my own. The hate was what got to me. I continued to issue five more licenses until the Colorado attorney general issued a letter. It wasn't an order, but it was a strong suggestion that was very similar to what Suthers said to Hillary Hall.

It was never conceived that marriage would be anything but between a man and a woman, and that by me issuing licenses to people of the same sex -- "these people" -- I was misleading them into thinking they would have rights that they would never have.

Then my district attorney said, in the eyes of the public, the attorney general has a wider influence than I do. Technically, he has more influence than the district attorney and I did as an elected official, although I don't know that I really understood that at the time. At that point, I stopped issuing licenses.

Continue for more of our interview with Clela Rorex.
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Kyle Harris has been Westword’s Culture Editor since 2016, writing about the arts, music and film.
Contact: Kyle Harris