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Colo. same-sex marriage battle echoes Boulder drama of nearly 40 years ago

Wednesday, July 9, 2014
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Clela RorexBrennan Linsley, AP

Clela Rorex, who was elected and served as Boulder County clerk and recorder in the 1970s, stands outside the offices of current County Clerk Hillary Hall, in Boulder, Colo., Wednesday, July 2, 2014. In 1975, Rorex, elected on a campaign to help register more University of Colorado students, stumbled into history when two men asked her for a marriage license, which she granted. She issued a total of six licenses before Attorney General J.D. MacFarlane intervened, despite the questionability of his authority another elected official, according to Rorex.

BOULDER, Colo. — Nearly 40 years ago, a newly elected, miniskirt-wearing feminist in Colorado stumbled into history when a gay couple denied a marriage license sought her help instead.

While the college town of Boulder has a liberal reputation now, it was deeply divided over gay rights in 1975, and few, including Clela Rorex, had thought about same-sex couples marrying. Seeing a parallel with the women’s movement and finding nothing in the law to prevent it, the 31-year-old county clerk agreed and granted a total of six licenses to gay couples before the state’s attorney general at the time ordered her to stop.

Now, as the courts across the U.S. rule in support of gay marriage, a clerk in the very same county finds herself in a similar position.

Hillary Hall has issued more than 100 marriage licenses to same-sex couples ever since a federal appeals court based in Denver ruled last month that states cannot ban same-sex marriage. That ruling was put on hold pending an appeal, and Colorado’s gay marriage ban, passed by voters in 2006, remains on the books.

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She is being sued by state Attorney General John Suthers, who says the licenses are invalid because marriage must be between a man and a woman, and she hasn’t gotten tremendous support for her view, at least in official circles.

Gov. John Hickenlooper, a fellow Democrat, says same-sex marriages should wait until the U.S. Supreme Court settles the question, though gay state lawmakers have called for an immediate overturning of Colorado’s ban.

A judge will hear the lawsuit against Hall on Wednesday.

Like Rorex decades before her, Hall believes she shouldn’t refuse gay couples the right to marry. Unlike in 1975 though, Hall is bolstered by over 20 federal court rulings that have found same-sex marriage bans to be unconstitutional.

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