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An Interview With Alexis Ortega, A Director of the National Marriage Boycott

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A few weeks back, I wrote a tongue-in-cheek piece about how I would be getting an (Un)legal Divorce until same-sex marriages becomes the law of the land. I was contacted by Alexis Ortega, a student at Stanford and a director of the National Marriage Boycott. The organization calls on President Obama to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act and encourages straight married couples to wear an "equality ring" as a sign of support.

Here is an email exchange I had with Ortega.

1.) Please explain the NMB and what it hopes to accomplish...
The National Marriage Boycott is a student-driven movement to urge President Obama to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). Participants pledge on to boycott marriage until DOMA is repealed. This movement is inclusive: members of the LGBT community, allies, and even heterosexual married couples, have signed the pledge and now wear an equality ring on their left ring finger. The equality ring serves not only as a symbol of the pledge, but also to increase visibility of the marriage equality issue. Married couples participating in the National Marriage Boycott have shown their support by either replacing their wedding rings with an equality ring, or by wearing the equality ring next to their wedding band.

2.) How did it get started?
The National Marriage Boycott was created in November 2008 at Stanford University in response to the passage of Proposition 8. Recruitment of other schools began in the spring of 2009. We currently have chapters forming at more than ten other institutions including: UCLA, UCSB, University of Idaho, UCSD, SDSU, Pomona College, Columbia, Wesleyan, Boston University, Williams, and several high schools.

3.) How does this differ from Levi's "White Knot" movement, or any of the other AIDS-ribbons/Livestrong bracelet types that are out there?
The fundamental difference between the "White Knot" and the National Marriage Boycott is that those boycotting marriage are making a personal sacrifice by refusing to participate in a discriminatory institution. Additionally, the National Marriage Boycott, although open to anyone willing to fight for LGBT rights, is a student-driven movement. We are campus-based and hope to be the platform from which student voices can be heard. Although there are some differences, both the "White Knots" and National Marriage Boycott movements do the important work of creating visibility for the marriage equality issue, and we look forward to working with them in the future.

4.) This seems like something college kids would support because marriage isn't imminent. What kind of feedback have you gotten from straight married couples?
The straight married couples in support of LGBT rights, whom we have spoken to, have been excited about this campaign. The main reason is that the National Marriage Boycott provides a space for allies to take an active role in working towards LGBT rights. Although we only launched in the spring of 2009, notable boycotters already include former California congresswoman Sally Lieber and "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" activist Lt. Dan Choi.

5.) A lot of people I know don't even take off their wedding bands to shower, work out or sleep. Does it seem realistic to expect people to remove the one item that means so much to them, even if they support the cause?
Ultimately, many married couples have told us that their marriages have been tarnished by the way the institution is currently being used to blatantly discriminate against members of the LGBT community. Married couples, including same-sex couples, have been showing their support and dedication to LGBT rights by either replacing their wedding ring with an equality ring or by wearing the equality ring next to their wedding ring.

6.) Wouldn't it be more effective to have another symbol--say a bracelet--that has the same message? That seems to send a more pro-marriage-equality message along the lines of everyone should be able to wear wedding bands...
The most recognizable symbol of marriage is a ring worn on the left ring finger. A ring is also a symbol of a serious commitment, which is exactly what marriage boycotters are making. Finally, a ring placed where a wedding ring is traditionally placed is a great conversation starter.

7.) Although California recently had a big setback, same-sex marriage is moving along elsewhere. Why not leave it up to the states?
There are currently 1,138 federal rights associated with marriage that are denied to same-sex couples, even if they can get married at the state level. Furthermore, one's right to visit a spouse in the hospital should not change when one crosses a state border. This is our country and we oppose discrimination written into federal laws.

8.) If Obama were to go forward on repealing DOMA, it would cause him major headaches politically. Why should he take on the cause now, with the economy, two wars, environmental policy, healthcare, etc.
In the words of President Obama: "I support the complete repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) - a position I have held since before arriving in the U.S. Senate. While some say we should repeal only part of the law, I believe we should get rid of that statute altogether. Federal law should not discriminate in any way against gay and lesbian couples, which is precisely what DOMA does."
- Presidential candidate Barack Obama, 2008

This issue is bigger than marriage equality. According to the Trevor Project, an LGBTQ youth suicide prevention organization, gay (and questioning) youth are four times more likely to commit suicide than the national average. The repeal of DOMA is one step of many in moving towards social change, and it can't wait. We hope that by creating a visible, nation-wide movement committed to marriage equality, not only will our voices will be heard, but also, we hope that our strong, visible support will produce an environment where these kids feel safer and more supported.

9.) Have you gotten any negative feedback from the gay community? It seems like asking moderates to remove their wedding rings could cause more harm than good...
We have encountered little explicit negative feedback from the LGBT community. Not participating in the National Marriage Boycott in no way precludes a person from being an LGBT rights supporter. Rather, the National Marriage Boycott serves as an avenue for members of the LGBT and allied communities who want to do more than just vote on ballot initiatives; participants in the National Marriage Boycott are taking a more visible and active role in this movement, something that we've learned is necessary in the wake of the passage of Prop 8.

10.) Why black? It's the color of death, funerals, vampires and Goth kids...Couldn't you at least have gone with purple?
Our selection process for the marriage equality ring was based on a number of factors, but most importantly, we wanted a ring with a neutral appearance that participants would feel comfortable wearing regardless of gender, sexual orientation, or age.

For more information, or to join the NMB, check out the organization's website.