Honouring a Rogue Activist: William Wise (1937-2016)

In March 1975, the Boulder District Attorney’s Office received a request from Boulder County Clerk and Recorder Clela Rorex, to provide legal assistance regarding the issuing of marriage licenses to same-sex couples.  Having been visited by two men wishing to get married, Rorex wanted to ensure that she would not be violating any state statute in issuing the couple a license.  Assistant District Attorney William Wise, having no legal precedent upon which to rely, took up the task of interpreting Colorado’s marriage statute.   

Earlier this year, in an interview with Wise, I mentioned that he had great latitude in his role within the District Attorney’s Office to take an ideological position on this question that could have, effectively, ended any issuing of same-sex marriage licenses before it even started.  

In response, he said, “Frankly, I think that whoever drew up that marriage statute just never considered male-male or female-female.  The statute just does not say – it just talks about a union.  And, actually, the way it was written, I don’t think that anyone could have interpreted that there was an implication of marriage between a man and a woman solely.  I read the statute and came to the conclusion that anyone should come to – it was ambiguous.”

As a result of his interpretation, Wise delivered a memo to the Clerk and Recorder’s Office on March 25, 1975, advising that Colorado state law neither permits, nor denies, marriages between same-sex couples.  More specifically, state law did not explicitly limit marriage to a union between one man and one woman. As such, Rorex would be legally free to issue same-sex marriage licenses out of her office.

In so advising, Wise provided the legal avenue for Clela Rorex to issue the country’s first same-sex marriage licenses in 1975 – six in total.  These licenses would crack open the door to marriage equality that would eventually be realized by the United States Supreme Court in June 2015 – forty years later.  

In time, Rorex would reminisce that “without Bill’s ability to read the law from an unbiased perspective, I would never have been able to make the decision I did.”  

I closed my interview with Wise, saying, “I’m trying to imagine, and let’s just say what it is – a straight white guy in the 1970s gets this request.  In some respects, you started this.”

He replied, “Well, I mean, gay – so the fuck what?  Who was going to get hurt?”

William Wise passed away on November 29th of this year – one day shy of his 79th birthday.  Here, we, the Rogue Activist team, recognize and honor his early role in the march for marriage equality.

William Wise

May he rest in peace.

Guest Blog Post: Rogue No More by Karen Paget (Former Boulder City Council Member)

Rogue No More by Karen Paget

When the request from Shawn Fettig came to write about what the post-election future holds for the LBGTQ community, my first thought was to say that I had hung up my predictor hat, having been, like so many others, wrong about the 2016 election.  Or to respond that Trump himself is not predictable: he doesn’t seem to remember his position on any given day or even five minutes before.  Did anyone expect him to say during his 60 Minutes interview that he was “okay” with same-sex marriage? Will that stick? I concluded that my only response to Shawn about the future could be “who knows?”

But, as it happens, I’ve spent the last month sorting through old files from the last fifty-five years of my life, and had just finished with folders labeled “sexual preference fight, 1973,” and “recall election, 1974.”   I was one of the five Boulder city council members who voted to amend the local Human Rights Ordinance to ban discrimination in employment based on sexual preference, a term of art at the time, now archaic and even offensive. As I read through constituent letters from more than forty years ago, I was stunned.  I had forgotten just how viciously people had reacted to the vote, the referendum that overturned the council’s vote by more than two to one, and the recall that broke the council’s progressive majority. The vitriol, the screed, the threats of retribution, much of it apparently sent by the divine, reminded me that in the early 1970s, a majority of liberal Boulderites thought we were simply out of our minds. Read More

‘Then Comes Marriage: US v. Windsor and the Defeat of DOMA’ by Roberta Kaplan (with Lisa Dickey): Book Review

In Then Comes Marriage, Roberta Kaplan, lead attorney in the 2013 US v. Windsor Supreme Court case, details the story behind the defeat of the Defense of Marriage Act.  Kaplan manages to artfully weave her own biography – the shame of growing up gay in a more conservative time – against the backdrop of an American landscape bedeviled by the Defense of Marriage Act, and the destructive impact that the legislation had on committed same-sex couples – specifically that of Edie Windsor (for whom the SCOTUS case is named) and her late wife, Thea Spyer.

Unlike Jo Becker, who tries and fails to maintain a sense of journalistic objectivity in her book, Forcing the Spring (detailing the behind-the-scenes story of Hollingsworth v. Perry ­– argued before the Supreme Court the day prior to Windsor), Kaplan can, and does, embrace her role as an activist.  She tells the story from the perspective of not only a client advocate, but also of someone who is actively affected by the outcome of the case.  She does away with all objective pretense – and here that’s okay, because Kaplan is an advocate, and her own story is uniquely intertwined with the case she is arguing.  And, while Kaplan’s eagerness to regale the reader with her own life story alongside that of Windsor (something readers interested only in the history of the case may find irritating) slows the narrative from really gathering momentum, it does eventually play well.  As the reader learns, Kaplan has unique experience with Spyer many years prior to even meeting Edie Windsor that, if not necessary to the story, is certainly endearing. Read More

‘Forcing the Spring: Inside the Fight for Marriage Equality’ by Jo Becker: Book Review

'Forcing the Spring' by Jo Becker: Book review

‘Forcing the Spring’ by Jo Becker: Book review

With Forcing the Spring, Jo Becker writes a tour-de-force that is enhanced by its level of insider information to the story behind the 2013 Supreme Court case Hollingsworth v. Perry.  Becker traces the case from its very inception, following the passage of Proposition 8 in California, eliminating the right of same-sex couples to marry by ballot initiative, to the ultimate decision of the Supreme Court that the plaintiffs (supporters of Prop 8) did not have standing to intervene.  This decision paved the way for same-sex marriages to continue in California.  Given her access to many of the actors in the case as it was playing out, Becker is able to recount aspects of the story that would otherwise be lost to history – key decision points, development of strategy, and personal details that enrich the tale.

This book captures an important historical moment in the struggle for marriage equality and, on a grander stage, the LGBT+ movement, in general.  In the context of civil rights, both to posterity and to perpetuity, Becker, in telling this story, makes a valuable contribution.  This story recollects a pivotal moment in the marriage equality endgame.  Certainly, despite the thrust of the narrative at times, marriage equality did not begin with the fight against Prop 8, but it does represent strategic key decisions made by dedicated individuals to take the fight to the end at this time, over the objection of more experienced voices, angling for a more pragmatic approach. Read More

The Idea

I was exhausted by the time I arrived home.  It was late.  Very late.

The day had started early and run long.

I flipped through my daily mail as I shuffled up to the bedroom.  My heart stopped for a split second when I noticed the county court logo in the corner of an envelope.  I knew what it was before opening it.

My divorce.

How ironic – today of all days.

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