The first marriage license in the nation was issued to two men in Maricopa County, Ariz., in January 1975 but was later revoked
A milestone in Boulder’s gay-rights history took place in 1975 — at the El Paso County Clerk’s office.
Two Colorado Springs men who had been living together for four years, David McCord and David Zamora, approached their county clerk to obtain a marriage license.
The staff person told the couple they didn’t do that sort of thing in El Paso County, then suggested they might have luck in Boulder.
McCord and Zamora traveled to Boulder and encountered Boulder County Clerk Clela Rorex, who had been on the job only a few months. Assistant District Attorney William C. Wise advised Rorex that there was nothing in the language of the law to prevent granting such a license.
“I am not in violation of any law, and it is not for me to legislate morality … ” Rorex said after the fact.
And with that, McCord and Zamora received the first same-sex marriage license in Colorado on March 26, 1975. (The first marriage license in the nation was issued to two men in Maricopa County, Ariz., in January 1975 but was later revoked.)
The union of McCord and Zamora was front-page news in the Daily Camera on March 27, 1975.
A few days later, the Sunday Camera’s editorial proclaimed the issuance was a “flouting of accepted standards” and a “distortion of intent of the law.”
“What average, normal American family would choose residence here on the basis of this type of conduct and the reflection it gives?” the article asked readers. “The unsavory publicity about Boulder and the damaging effects on its reputation do not reflect the true character of our community. The deviates, weirdos, drones and revolutionaries are in the rank of the minority.”
Boulder County received more than 100 phone calls and piles of letters. Later, Rorex said he received hate mail from entire church congregations.
Many letters to the editor were published in the Daily Camera, mostly against the groundbreaking action.
However, on April 7, when the Camera reported that a second license had been granted, the story noted that calls and letters were running at a 2-1 ratio in favor of Rorex’s decision to issue the licenses.
A male couple from Laramie, Wyo., drove to Boulder to obtain a license. One member of the couple was later dismissed from his job, according to a story in the New York Times. The Times reported that the same-sex couples granted licenses in Boulder were subjected to “harassment and ridicule.”
Boulder was a topic on late-night television when host Johnny Carson remarked about a wacky town in Colorado that was handing out marriage licenses to homosexuals. Richard Adams and his partner, Anthony Sullivan, watched the broadcast in California and decided to make a trip to Boulder. Their Boulder County marriage license, issued on April 21, 1975, was the fifth granted.
Adams and Sullivan were quickly married outside the county clerk’s office. Later that afternoon, they traveled to Denver and had a formal religious ceremony, performed by a minister of the Metropolitan Community Church at Denver’s First Unitarian Church. (The Metropolitan Community Church was founded in 1968 on the principle of inclusion with specific outreach to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender families and communities.) The First Unitarian Church in Denver remains proud of its inclusive history, having placed a banner on the side of the building proclaiming, “Civil Marriage is a Civil Right.”
A total of six same-sex couples, four male and two female, were issued marriage licenses by Boulder County, before the Colorado Attorney General intervened and halted the practice.
While the McCord-Zamora marriage was over in less than two years, Adams and Sullivan were married for 38 years. The marriage license they obtained in Boulder made national news again when Adams died in December 2012.
The licenses issued in Boulder in 1975 stand as an important breakthrough in the struggle for LGBT rights.
Amid the fray caused by the licenses in 1975, Assistant District Attorney Wise, living up to his surname, remarked, “Who is it going to hurt?”
Carol Taylor and Silvia Pettem write about history for the Daily Camera. Email Carol at firstname.lastname@example.org, Silvia at email@example.com or write to the Daily Camera, 5450 Western Ave., Boulder 80301.