As work in the state House of Representatives ground to a halt on the second to last night of the legislative session last week to ensure that no vote would be taken on legislation to create civil unions, I found myself reflecting on the role my hometown of Steamboat Springs played in the debate on same-sex unions way back in 1975.
The whole time I was growing up, the Routt County clerk was a man named Cecil Rorex. Following in her father’s footsteps, his daughter Clela was elected the clerk in Boulder County in 1974, before she was even 30 years old. Shortly after she took office, two gay men from Colorado Springs came to see Clela on March 26, 1975. They’d been denied a marriage license by El Paso County officials, who then suggested they might want to try in Boulder, as “they do things differently up there.”
Clela consulted Boulder County District Attorney Alex Hunter, who told her Colorado law didn’t preclude her from issuing the license, and she made history, and more than a little controversy, when she issued the first same-sex marriage license. Over the course of the next three weeks, five more same-sex marriage licenses were granted.
Everything came to a head on April 15, 1975, when a 63-year-old cowboy named Roswell Howard loaded his favorite mare into a horse trailer and headed to the old Boulder County Courthouse on what is now the Pearl Street Mall. Howard had tipped the media to his plan and showed up in Clela’s office with an entourage of reporters and camera operators. He said, “If a boy can marry a boy and a girl can marry a girl, why can’t a lonesome old cowboy get hitched to his favorite saddle mare?”
Being more than ready to run a customer-friendly operation, Clela pulled out a marriage application and proceeded to help Mr. Howard fill it out. After getting all his information, she turned to the section concerning his intended. Clela asked Howard his fianceé’s name. “Dolly,” he told her. She then asked him her age. “Eight years old,” was his reply. Without missing a beat, Clela told Mr. Howard that Dolly wasn’t old enough to enter into the marriage without a note from her parents. He acknowledged that he couldn’t comply with that requirement.
Shortly thereafter, Attorney General J.D. McFarlane concluded that county clerks in Colorado were not allowed to issue same-sex marriage licenses, the six that had been issued were ruled invalid, and the issue pretty much went away in Colorado for a couple of decades.
But that local girl from Steamboat was at the heart of a huge local, regional and national story during that month in 1975!
Greg Romberg is president of Romberg and Associates, a government relations and public affairs firm. He lives in Evergreen with his wife, Laurie, and three daughters.