Elizabeth Gilbert, the bestselling author of the memoir Eat, Pray, Love, is back with a new book, Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace With Marriage. In her earlier book Gilbert reflected on her broken marriage, her travels around the world “looking for joy and God and love and the meaning of life,” and her determination never to marry again. In the new book we learn that she surprised herself by meeting a man worth settling down with, a Brazilian living in Indonesia. So they became a couple and settled near Philadelphia, with Jose Nunes regularly leaving the country to renew his visitor’s visa.
But then came a legal shock:
She was in the early stages of research for that book when Nunes was detained, after a visa-renewing jaunt out of the country, by Homeland Security Department officials at the Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport. Popping in and out of the country as he’d been doing was not legal, Nunes was told, and if he wanted to stay permanently they would have to marry.
Gilbert didn’t want to marry. She and Nunes spent 10 months traveling in Asia. But then, reading about marriage, writing about her aversion to marriage, getting closer to her new partner, she decided to marry. And so they did. And they lived happily ever after in the New Jersey suburbs.
A happy ending all around. As long as you’re heterosexual. Because, of course, if you’re gay, the U.S. government will tell you that your life partner from Brazil may be allowed to visit the United States, but he won’t be allowed to stay. And guess what? He could stay if you were married, but you can’t get married. Catch-22. And even though you could now marry in some foreign countries and some American states and the District of Columbia, the Defense of Marriage Act still prevents the federal government – including its immigration enforcers – from recognizing valid marriages between same-sex partners.
Is this just a theoretical complaint? As a matter of fact, not at all. At least two well-known writers have recently faced exactly the same situation Gilbert did: a Brazilian life partner who couldn’t live in the United States. Glenn Greenwald, a blogger, author of bestselling books, and author of a Cato Institute study on drug reform in Portugal, has written about his own situation and that of others. Like Greenwald, Chris Crain, former editor of the Washington Blade, has also moved to Brazil to be with his partner.
Carolyn See, reviewing Gilbert’s book in the Washington Post, wrote, “The U.S. government, like a stern father, proposed a shotgun marriage of sorts: If you want to be with him in this country, this Brazilian we don’t know all that much about, you’ll have to marry him.” A shotgun marriage, sort of. But at least the government gave Gilbert a choice. It just told Greenwald and Crain no.
This unfairness could be solved, of course, if the government would have the good sense to listen to Cato chairman Bob Levy, who wrote last week in the New York Daily News on “the moral and constitutional case for gay marriage.” And it may be solved by the lawsuit seeking to overturn California’s Proposition 8 that is being spearheaded by liberal lawyer David Boies and conservative lawyer Ted Olson, writes Newsweek’s cover story this week, “The Conservative Case for Gay Marriage.” Until then: eat, pray, love, marry – as long as you’re heterosexual.