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Former Colo. Clerk Says Same-Sex Marriage In 1975 Generated Hate

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

The county clerk of Rowan County, Ky., is still in jail this morning. A judge held her in contempt for refusing to issue marriage licenses to gay couples. That's the news of the day. Now on StoryCorps, let's hear, again, about another county clerk who made news 40 years ago with her own controversial decision. In 1975, Clela Rorex had just been elected the county clerk of Boulder, Colo., when she started issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. She told her friend, Sue Larson, it started one day when two men arrived at her office door.

CLELA ROREX: The couple came in. They asked for a marriage license. And it's the first time I met openly gay people. I said, I don't know if I can do this. And at that point, I went to the district attorney and he said the Colorado marriage code did not specify that marriage had to be between a man and a woman, and therefore, I did it. I honestly did not anticipate the degree of hate. It was threats, people needed to kill me for doing this, and that kind of stuff. And I had entire church congregations writing me that it would be Sodom and Gomorrah in the area. I had a small son, he was about 8, and people would call on the phone and if he answered, they'd spiel their hatred to him. And one day, I walked into my office. I was standing and looking out my window and this horse trailer drives up and some media vans. This cowboy gets out. All of a sudden, it just dawned on me - he was going to ask for a marriage license for his horse. My deputy and I were flipping through the marriage code like crazy, you know, what are we going to do? So the cowboy comes in and asked for a marriage license. And I started taking information. I ask him his name and Dolly's name - Dolly was the horse - and I said, and how old is Dolly? He said, 8. And I put my pen down, calm as could be, and said, well, I'm sorry, but that's too young without parental approval.

(LAUGHTER)

ROREX: But what didn't feel good was my actions made me kind of a laughing stock. And, you know, I didn't see through my term in office. I would not have gotten re-elected anyway.

SUE LARSON: Well, there are some people out here who know what a big deal that was and what a stand you took.

ROREX: (Laughter). Thanks Sue, but I just was this young woman in this place at this point in time, and thank goodness I made that decision because it would be so hard for me to look myself in the mirror today if I had not made the decision then.

MONTAGNE: That was Clela Rorex, former Boulder County clerk, talking with her friend, Sue Larson, about issuing marriage licenses to six gay couples back in 1975. Their interview will be archived at the American Folklife Center in the Library of Congress. You can hear more on the StoryCorps podcast. Get it on iTunes and npr.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.