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

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Hillary HallBrennan Linsley, AP

Boulder County cerk Hillary Hall congratulates longtime couple Jennifer Knight, left, and Felice Cohen, after Hall granted them a marriage license, inside the offices of the Boulder County Clerk and Recorder, in Boulder, Colo. Hall began issuing licenses a day earlier following a federal appeals court ruling that Utah‘s same-sex marriage ban is unconstitutional.

Hall declined to be interviewed, citing work to wrap up last month’s primary election. But in a written statement, she said history is proving that Rorex was ahead of her time, though the previous clerk’s actions didn’t influence her decision to start issuing same-sex marriage licenses. Hall said she felt she had a legal and moral obligation to act after appeals court ruling.

“You cannot stay a fundamental right,” said Hall, 48.

In 1975, Rorex said she had little support from fellow Democrats or even the gay community, let alone the public, so she didn’t challenge the attorney general. A recall effort was launched against Rorex, a single mother and University of Colorado graduate student. Suffering from chronic migraines and dealing with hate mail, she resigned halfway through her term.

“She didn’t get many people who supported her. She was getting laughed out of town,” said Glenda Russell, a psychologist who is working on a book about Colorado’s gay history and lived in Boulder at the time.

Through it all, Rorex tried to keep her sense of humor. When a man applied to marry his horse to make a point, Rorex refused, saying the horse wasn’t of age.

Now 70 and still living in the area, Rorex speaks in schools about being a straight advocate for gays and lesbians. She said she is exasperated by the slow pace of change and hopes Hall won’t back down.

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“Where is the humanity here? Why do we have to have one more court hearing?” she asked.

Rorex said she made her decision in 1975 out of a sense of fairness but from a bit of distance. Over the years though, as she has gotten to know more gay couples and their children, she has become more convinced that she made the right decision.

Rorex suspects Hall has had the same experience.

Last year, when same-sex civil unions became legal in Colorado, Hall opened her office to couples a minute after midnight. Rorex recalled seeing members of the clerk’s staff crying as couples registered.

“When you’re encountering that face-to-face, you just see,” Rorex said. “It brings it to a personal level.”

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