“Were there activists who were ahead of their time? Well, that was true in every human rights and civil rights movement. But, the vast majority of Americans were just waking up to this issue.”
* Hillary Clinton on NPR, responding to a question about her lack of support for same-sex marriage in the 1990s (June 12, 2014)
Rogue Activist is the gripping story behind the first same-sex marriage licenses issued in the United States and the fallout that ensued.
Clela Rorex, a young feminist in Boulder, CO, ran an unconventional campaign for Boulder County Clerk and Recorder in 1974. After taking office in January 1975, Boulder Mayor Penfield Tate warned Clela that “something might be coming down the pipeline,” but provided no more details.
On March 25, 1975, two men walked into the Boulder County Clerk and Recorder’s Office and asked for a marriage license – to marry each other. Clela Rorex asked the men for one day to determine if any Colorado law existed that would stop her from issuing such a license. After receiving a memo from District Attorney William Wise, advising that Colorado state statute included no language specifying that marriage must be between one man and one woman, Clela issued a marriage license to the two men the following day, March 26, 1975.
Over the course of the next two months, Clela issued five more such licenses to same-sex couples, becoming the first in the country to do so. In that two-month span, clergy would fly in from California to marry the couples; shots would be fired; a man would request a license to marry his horse; a recall campaign would be mounted; Johnny Carson would mockingly reference Boulder in his Tonight Show monologue; death threats would be issued; and, Clela would lose the support of her own Democratic Party.
Within a year, Clela would resign and never hold public office again. The mayor would lose reelection the following year.
Within five years, the United States Justice Department would send a letter to one of the couples, referring to them as “faggots.” Within seven, the United States 9thCircuit Court of Appeals would rule against the legality of that same couple’s marriage, in an opinion written by the same justice that would, thirty-three years later, write the majority opinion for the United States Supreme Court in Obergefell v. Hodges, upholding the constitutionality of same-sex marriage.
And, one minister who had married the couples, seeking redemption within the church that he had alienated, would spend the rest of his life advocating against marriage equality.
Rogue Activist is a story waiting to be told, in an atmosphere ripe for media and public consumption. With the United States Supreme Court’s decision in June 2015, national attention is primed for information and stories about same-sex marriage. Boulder is where it all began. And, Rogue Activist is that story.