Clela Rorex, former Steamboat resident who granted early gay marriage license, dies at 78

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

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

Rorex, who grew up in Steamboat Springs, died of complications and an infection after a fall. She was 78 years old.

“She wasn’t one to walk 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 an election meeting, 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 someone else asking for the same rights?”

When Dave McCord and Dave Zamora walked into the Rorex office three months into his internship, Rorex was faced with a decision.

Tuesday Moore, Out Boulder County Executive Directorexplained that Rorex displayed an incredible belief in what she believed to be 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 right changed the course of his life in a dramatic way.”

Poston agreed that her mother wasn’t too concerned about affection or what other people thought of her.

“She was more interested in good and bad,” he said.

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

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

Rorex was born July 23, 1943 in Denver and grew up in Steamboat Springs. His father Cecil Rorex was the Routt County Clerk for 30 years.

Cecil Rorex lost his leg in his youth saving his father’s life in a mining accident. Poston said his mother saw the difficulties his father faced and it influenced his outlook later in life.

“Supporting her values, she saw the discrimination her father 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 faced having to amputate one of her legs to survive, Poston said, adding that he believed watching her father’s struggle with the disability had played a role in his decision not to amputate, which may have prolonged his life.

Clela Rorex’s mother was a dance and acting teacher at Steamboat.

“I remember we were in dance class together,” said Kathleen Powell Newton, who grew up opposite Clela Rorex. “She was helping me with some of the dance moves that I wasn’t getting.”

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

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

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

Newton said Clela Rorex had received death threats and was “letting off a huge amount of criticism” for her decision to grant a same-sex marriage license in 1975.

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

Clela Rorex had an enduring love for her hometown and she told loved ones she wanted his ashes scattered in the Yampa Valley.

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

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

Courtesy of Scott Poston

While Poston was cleaning his mother’s apartment after she died, he found a small sign in her bathroom. He said, “Be a mermaid, make waves.”

“I thought it was totally appropriate,” Poston said. “That’s who she was.”

Milton S. Rodgers