Clela Rorex, former Steamboat resident who granted early same-sex marriage license, dies at 78

Rorex granted first same-sex marriage license decades before marriage equality was law

Clela Rorex, who was elected and served as Boulder County clerk and recorder in the 1970s, stands outside the offices of then-County Clerk Hillary Hall, in Boulder, Colo., on July 2, 2014. Rorex, a former Colorado county clerk considered a pioneering ally to the gay rights movement for being the first public official to issue a same-sex marriage license in 1975, has died at age 78. Rorex died Sunday, June 19, 2022, of complications from recent surgery at a hospice care facility in Longmont, the Daily Camera reported.
AP Photo/Brennan Linsley

Clela Rorex, a former Boulder County clerk who defied social conventions when she granted one of the first marriage licenses to a gay couple in 1975, died Sunday, June 19, in Longmont.

Rorex, who was raised in Steamboat Springs, died as a result of complications and infection after a fall. She was 78.

“She was not one to tread lightly,” Scott Poston said of his mother, who had no problem standing up for what she believed was right.

“I decided to run for clerk when, at a meeting about the election, the Democratic party insisted they wanted a man to run,” Rorex told Esquire in 2016. “We were asking for equal rights, and who would I be to deny somebody else who was asking for the same rights?”

When Dave McCord and Dave Zamora came into Rorex’s office three months into her clerkship, Rorex was confronted with a decision.

Mardi Moore, executive director of Out Boulder County, explained that Rorex displayed an incredible conviction for what she thought was right.

“She didn’t know any gay people, she did it because it was the right thing to do,” Moore said. “That one act of doing something that was right changed the course of her life in dramatic ways.”

Poston agreed that his mother wasn’t too concerned with tenderness or what other people thought of her.

“She was more interested in right and wrong,” he said.

Rorex began working with Out Boulder County to promote LGBTQ+ rights and community over a decade ago.

“Clela was an ally to so many people in the LGBTQ community on a personal basis,” Moore said. “She was my friend and confidant and sister in the movement.”

Rorex was born on July 23, 1943, in Denver and raised in Steamboat Springs. Her father Cecil Rorex was the Routt County clerk for 30 years. 

Cecil Rorex lost his leg as a young man while saving his father’s life in a mining accident. Poston said that his mother saw the difficulties her father experienced, and that influenced her outlook later in life. 

“Backing her values, she saw the discrimination her dad faced,” he said. “She saw how people treated him and she saw what he was excluded from doing.”

Clela Rorex’s final weeks paralleled her father, as she was faced with the necessity of amputating one of her legs to survive, Poston said, adding that he believes watching her father’s struggle with the disability played a role in her decision not to amputate, which could have extended her life.

Clela Rorex’s mother was a dance and theater teacher in Steamboat.

“I remember we were in a dance class together,” said Kathleen Powell Newton, who grew up across the street from Clela Rorex. “She would help me out with some of the dance steps that I wasn’t getting.”

Newton said she and Clela Rorex were acquaintances growing up in Steamboat and had become closer friends in the last decade and spoke regularly on the phone.

Clela Rorex graduated from Steamboat Springs High School in 1961, and went on to the University of Colorado Boulder.

“She was very courageous,” Newton said. “She broke the rules in a good way.”

Newton said Clela Rorex received death threats and was “pitching an awful lot of flack” for her decision to grant a same-sex marriage license in 1975.

“She did a lot of courageous things back in the 70s with the gay marriage licenses and, I think, trying to live in a world as a single mom and raising a child,” Poston said.

Clela Rorex had an enduring love for her hometown, and she told those close to her that she wanted her ashes spread in the Yampa Valley.

“She was an ally to the community, including while she was in hospice,” Moore said. “She met with a family and supported the parents of the youth who had recently come out as trans.”

Clela Rorex is survived by Poston, her other son Aron Rorex and a daughter, Linda Vat.

Courtesy Scott Poston

While Poston was cleaning his mother’s apartment after her passing, he found a small sign in her bathroom. It read: “Be a mermaid, make waves.”

“I thought that it was completely fitting,” Poston said. “That’s who she was.”

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