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People We Should Remember

Clela Rorex, shown here in her office while she was serving as Boulder County clerk in 1975, says she didn’t anticipate the hate-filled response after she issued marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

There’s been a few deaths lately of people who might not be famous but who really worked to make the lives of people better. They deserve a moment of remembrance. Let’s start with Clela Rorex, a woman who made a truly remarkable stand at a time when such things seemed impossible:

Clela Rorex, who made headlines in 1975 when, as the Boulder County clerk in Colorado, she issued a marriage license to a gay couple, one of the first to do so in the nation, died on Sunday at a hospice center in Longmont, Colo. She was 78.


Mr. Poston said that when, just days later, on March 26, David McCord and David Zamora came to her seeking a marriage license, granting it was more an affirmation of her personal beliefs than an attempt to make national news.

“She didn’t do it to make a statement or create an uproar,” he said in a phone interview. “She just did it because she realized she would have an ideological contradiction if she didn’t believe in discrimination but discriminated against these men.”

She had some legal support — she had received an opinion from William C. Wise, the county’s assistant district attorney, who said that a same-sex marriage did not appear to be specifically prohibited by state law. In early April she granted a marriage license to two women, again making news.

She granted several other licenses to gay couples — “Colorado has become a mini‐Nevada for homosexual couples,” The New York Times said at the time — before the state attorney general, J.D. MacFarlane, contradicted Mr. Wise with an opinion that marriages had to be between a man and a woman.

That led Ms. Rorex to stop issuing same-sex licenses, but her actions had already made her a hero in the gay-rights movement, as well as a target.

“I was just so inundated with mostly hate mail during that time period,” she told The Associated Press in 2004. “It was really incredible the letters I got.”

My friends, you too, no matter what your job, can make a real difference in the world, even if you don’t seem like a pioneer now when you do the right thing. Who exemplifies this principle more than Rorex?

I might also point here to Haleh Afshar, the Muslim feminist who fought for the civil rights of other Muslim women, Jeffery Escoffier, the gay theorist and health activist, or the cancer activist Deborah James. None of these people are really that special per se. They are just people who did the right thing. We can all be activists. And note how unimportant electoral politics are to making change among these people. It’s far from the only way to make change; it may not be the most important. Only Rorex won elected office here and that the kind of lower level office that a lot of people can win.

Of course there are also dead assholes who do not deserve a good memory.

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