Boulder County Courthouse gets historical nod, photo still vexes

The role of Clela Rorex and the Boulder County Courthouse in the advancement of LGBTQ equality is destined for potential recognition at the national level. Now, advocates are focusing on correcting some optics closer to home.

At a meeting of the Colorado Historic Preservation Review Board on May 18, members unanimously approved as an “area of significance of social history” in association with the issuance there in 1975 of the first same-sex marriage licenses in Colorado, and the civil rights struggle of LGBTQ people.

The amended nomination will now be forwarded for consideration to the , under the U.S. Department of the Interior, which is being viewed as a victory for advocates of gender equity.

Still on activists‘ agenda, however, is doing something about the way that moment in local history is remembered at the courthouse.

On the ground floor of that building — which was built in 1933 and since 1980 has enjoyed a place on the National Register also by mere virtue of its being located within the Downtown Boulder Historic District — is a photo display that includes a picture of Roswell Howard and his horse. Howard is the man who showed up at the courthouse with his horse to secure a license so that the two of them could marry.

Rorex refused him on the grounds that his horse was too young. Rorex, too, was when then-Colorado Attorney General J.D. MacFarlane issued an opinion that state law required married couples to be heterosexual.

Rorex and other supporters of the LGBTQ community are thrilled about the state board‘s approval and forwarding of the courthouse amendment to the National Park Service. But they are very unhappy with the fact that Rorex‘s pioneering actions are remembered as part of a collage of historical photos in the courthouse lobby by a picture of Roswell and his equine partner.

Removing the photo is seen by county officials as problematical, in part because it is not an independent feature, but rather a fixed part of a larger work of photographic art.

Boulder County commissioners spokeswoman Barb Halpin said Wednesday that therefore, the focus is not on what may or may not be removed, but what can be added.

Clela Rorex is in front of the Boulder County Courthouse on the Pearl Street Mall in April. It was there, in 1975, that Rorex made national headlines by issuing the first same-sex wedding licenses in Colorado history, also among the first ever issued in the United States. ()

“I think the direction we‘re leaning is to create a display in the same lobby that really addresses what the county stands for in our inclusion, and our cultural diversity, and to highlight more of our initiatives” around those ideals, Halpin said.

“That‘s not to say we won‘t ever change any of the images on the other side (of the lobby). But that (collage) is clearly more about reflecting what happened in the past. And we‘d like to move forward with something new that reflects our current views and our vision for the future of Boulder County.”

Rorex, whose 2 ½-year tenure as Boulder County‘s clerk and recorder ended in 1977, said she would very much like to see the photo of Roswell and his horse shuffled off into the sunset.

“When I saw that picture up there a few years ago, I was really pretty shocked. I had no idea just why did they pick that,” she said.

Rorex, who now lives in Longmont, said Wednesday that she actually went out for a drink with Roswell a few days after she rejected his bid to obtain a license.

“He had been an old media hack, somehow. And when the marriage license thing came up, he was joking about it in a bar, saying, ‘Why couldn‘t I do this?‘” she said. “He set that up. He joked about that afterward. I never felt that he was protesting anything sincerely.”

But for the county to remember Roswell prominently — and to have no similar recognition of the first couples to secure licenses — she agreed, is wrong.

“It certainly sends a horrible message to the LGBTQ community,” she said. “They have fought for decades this whole conspiracy theory about men wanting to have sex with their animals and that that‘s what this would lead to. I understand the emotionality about that.”

Rorex attended the state preservation board‘s recent hearing about amending the courthouse‘s national recognition. She addressed the board before its vote of approval, which should now be acted on at the national level within about 90 days.

Mardi Moore, executive director of Out Boulder County, was also on hand at the state board‘s hearing. She, too, had planned to speak.

“It was amazing. There were people there from all over the state,” Moore said. “I tried to speak, but I didn‘t know how overwhelmed with emotion I would be.

“I had tears running down my face.”

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