Boulder County Courthouse Named to Register of Historic Places Related to LGBTQ Rights
Mark Holdbrooks was a 16-year-old gay kid in 1975, living in a small town south of Birmingham, Ala., and he was the only person who knew he was gay.
When he read an article in The Birmingham News that Boulder County Clerk and Recorder Clela Rorex had issued the United States’ first same-sex marriage license, he was filled with hope that one day he could meet someone and get married.
“I couldn’t tell a soul,” he said. “I was a scared little gay kid. But I never lost hope. Harvey Milk said you have to give people hope, and Clela gave me hope.”
“You’re going to make me cry before this even starts,” Rorex said as the two stood inside Boulder County commission chambers on Friday afternoon to mark the courthouse’s inclusion in the National Historic Register as an important place in the history of LGBTQ rights.
Holdbrooks, who came with his husband Nick, presented Rorex with a bouquet of roses during the ceremony. A plaque on the Pearl Street Mall side of the courthouse gives it rare standing along places like the Stonewall Inn in New York City, where members of the gay community rioted following a police raid in 1969.
Friday’s event drew all three county commissioners, Boulder city council members and Gov.-elect Jared Polis, the United States’ first openly gay governor.
“It’s so exciting to acknowledge Boulder County’s role in the history of the equality movement,” Boulder resident Polis told a packed chamber after arriving for an unannounced appearance. “Clela was truly ahead of her time.”
In March 1975, Rorex, now 75, issued the first of a half-dozen same-sex marriage licenses to gay couples, before she was quickly shut down by an opinion issued by then-state Attorney General J. D. MacFarlane that stated Colorado law implied a requirement that married couples be heterosexual.
Rorex on Friday said she had no plans on issuing such licenses when she was elected and did so only after a gay couple came to her after being turned away by the El Paso County clerk in Colorado Springs. She sought legal advice from the district attorney, who saw nothing preventing same-sex marriage in state law.
Rorex added that she faced opposition from the local Democratic party when she decided to run for county clerk in 1974, because party officials insisted that a man take the job. That lack of respect and equal treatment informed her decision to issue same-sex marriage licenses.
“As a woman, I’m asking for my equal rights,” she said. “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.”
Mardi Moore, executive director of Out Boulder County, an LGBTQ advocacy organization, said Rorex is the epitome of an ally because she took a bold position in 1975, particularly for a straight woman.
“She experienced a lot of hateful people when she started issuing those licenses,” Moore said. “I know why I’m in the fight. It’s for selfish reasons, not always, but I want my rights. ... She had no dog in the fight. She stood up.”
Boulder resident Nancy Sanders and her wife, Karin Dejamaer, tied the knot about an hour before the celebration.
“I was living here in 1975,” Sanders said. “We appreciate what the county clerk did and Boulder County did. We’ve been together for 23 years. We’ve been looking for the right moment. This seemed like an auspicious occasion.”
John Bear: 303-473-1355, firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter.com/johnbearwithme