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Colorado courthouse that married gay couples in 1975 gets federal recognition

Nick Duffy January 9, 2019
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Boulder County Courthouse in Colorado

Boulder County Courthouse in Colorado (Ken Lund)

The US National Park Service has honoured the Boulder County Courthouse in Colorado, where several same-sex marriage licenses were issued 40 years before the Supreme Court recognised marriage equality.

A plaque was unveiled at the Boulder County Courthouse on January 4 to mark its unique role in LGBT+ history.

The Colorado courthouse was the first place in the United States to issue a marriage license to a same-sex couple in 1975, after a local gay couple asked for the right to marry.

The then-Boulder County clerk Clela Rorex opted to grant the request, after the local district attorney informed her that Colorado law at the time defined marriage as between “any two persons” without apparent restriction as to gender.

Rorex went on to issue a total of six marriage licenses to same-sex couples, before being ordered to stop by Colorado’s attorney general J. D. MacFarlane, who declared them all invalid.

Boulder County Courthouse in Colorado
Boulder County Courthouse in Colorado (Creative Commons/Paul Sableman)

The ensuing fallout fuelled a country-wide push to adopt laws defining marriage as between a man and a woman, many of which would remain in effect until 2015 historic Supreme Court ruling.

According to NBC, the courthouse is one of just a few locations included in the National Park Service’s National Register of Historic Places for their importance to LGBT+ history, alongside New York City’s Stonewall Inn and the Washington DC home of gay rights hero Frank Kameny.

Rorex, now 75, attended the ceremony for the unveiling of the plaque, with the courthouse lit up in rainbow colours for the event.

She told Colorado’s News9: “I want this plaque to symbolise… a notice that people who are in the LGBT community are safe here in Boulder County.”

Rorex stood by her actions, adding: “As a woman, I’m asking for my equal rights. How can I deny someone else? It just felt like the right thing to do. I’ve never changed my mind. All these years, I never wished I hadn’t made that decision.”

She told local newspaper Daily Camera of the federal government’s recognition: “I’m surprised Trump did not put a halt to it… I was a little worried whether the Trump administration would approve it, but I guess it fell under the radar.”

Erika Warzel of History Colorado had nominated the courthouse for the honour while researching under-represented communities in the state.

She told the newspaper: “As part of that, our office had done some previous research into what are well known places in LGBTQ history, as a starting point.

“This certainly came up as one that was very well known, that we could easily pull together to get the ball rolling.”

Colorado Governor-elect Jared Polis also attended the ceremony, which took place a few days ahead of his historic swearing-in ceremony as the first openly gay Governor of a US state on January 8.

Celebrating the courthouse’s recognition, Polis said: “It’s so exciting to acknowledge Boulder County’s role in the history of the equality movement. Clela was truly ahead of her time.”

Related topics: Colorado, courthouse, Gay, History, LGBT, US

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