Q&A: Elizabeth Gilbert On Marriage Equality, Relationships Without BordersS

Eat, Pray, Love's Elizabeth Gilbert was honored with an award by Immigration Equality last night after she, a marriage skeptic, used her latest book, Committed, to advocate for marriage equality and the rights of same sex partners in transnational relationships.

Gilbert's newest book chronicles a very basic struggle faced by transnational couples: marry to appease the government, or live in exile. Of course, only opposite-sex couples have the former option — despite the few states that recognize same sex marriage, the Clinton-era Defense of Marriage Act prevents the federal government from recognizing those marriages and thus prevents same sex partners from obtaining green cards in the way that opposite-sex spouses can. Although Gilbert refers to the Department of Homeland Security's decision to keep her male partner out of the United States unless they get married as a "sentence to wed," she instinctively recognized that her LGBT friends didn't even have the option. And then she wrote about it.

Megan: How did you end up here tonight?
Elizabeth Gilbert: It was brought to my attention by my publicist at Penguin. She had the good sense to pull [the invitation] out of the pile, and she knew it was something I'd be interested in seeing. She's known me a long time.

I had been contemplating [immigration equality for same sex couples] a lot while we were stuck in immigration exile, the idea that even as hard as it was for us, there would be no option if we were a same sex couple. My friend had said to me, "Play your hetero card and just get through it." But there's just something so nauseating about that. These inequities aren't just unjust and cruel, they're stupid. As I say in my speech tonight, my husband came here, he started a business. He hired Americans. We pay taxes on that business. It will ruin my bohemian street cred, but we're model citizens and pillars of our community. We're very involved in the town we live in. And if we had been a same sex couple, this country and our community would have lost that possibility.

I mean, it's amazing to see that Pfizer [which was also recognized with a Safe Haven award] is on board. They see that it's such a brain drain. Peace, justice, equality, we rail on that, but it's still a capitalist country. So it takes seeing the economic impact to make some people realize what a problem this is. Of course I would be for it, but it's great to see they are, too.

How do you see this fitting into the larger immigration debate?
What is smart about this particular movement is how specific it is. Rather than tackle comprehensive immigration reform or comprehensive marriage reform, they're going after something very specific that seems reasonable to most people where these two issues dovetail. It's this small area of reasonableness. Whereas someone like Sarah Palin might draw the line at marriage rights, she might be able to see this as reasonable. Whereas someone who is opposed to immigration reform might draw the line at amnesty, they might see equality for same sex couples under the current system as reasonable. You're not changing everything, you're just extending rights to some people that are currently excluded. Sometimes, changes are incremental.

Less than a century ago, I'm not sure of the date exactly, if I had married a Brazilian man, I would have been forced to renounce my citizenship and take on his as a symbol of his dominance over me. So there's always been this question of marriage and immigration, and things are slowly changing.

Were you concerned when writing Committed that your support of marriage equality and immigration rights for same sex couples would alienate your readers after Eat, Pray, Love? I mean, Julia Roberts is going to play you in the movie, that's very mainstream-friendly.
I don't have a really conservative readership, and I know this because I was on tour for Committed for the first three months of this year. I made a really impassioned argument for same sex marriage in the book, and I figured I would take it on the chin during readings or media appearances. I had all these talking points ready... and then nothing.

I think it seems to be such a foregone conclusion to people at my events or people that interviewed me [that marriage equality is coming], so it just never came up. Even when I was in Texas, even when I was in Oklahoma, it never came up. In fact, it forced me to address some of my prejudices about people. I'd be in a more conservative place, and a white-haired older gentleman would stand up to ask a question and I'd think to myself, "Okay, this is it, this is when someone will say something about it," and then he'd ask a completely different question. I really had to rethink my own prejudices about people, about who I thought would be opposed to my position on this.

I do think it's funny that the conservative position on this right now seems to be that same sex couples should have all the same rights, but that we shouldn't call it marriage. [Ed: She's right: this was the position of the anti-marriage equality forces in the Prop. 8 debate in California, and of Sarah Palin during the Vice Presidential debates.] Like, that's it? Can you imagine 20 years ago? It was all, "Gay people are an abomination, full stop." And now we're quibbling about language. We've come so far. I feel like the raving antis are losing their battle on this, in part because even their kids don't care anymore.

What I hoped to do with Committed, I knew I'd never have this soapbox again after Eat, Pray, Love, I knew I'd never have as many instant readers. My trick with it was to make the book like a bran muffin frosted to look like a chocolate cupcake — to get people to read it and then have to think about it. But even if there were readers who weren't on board with gay rights, my advocacy doesn't seem to phase them. It's not been part of the conversation.

Q&A: Elizabeth Gilbert On Marriage Equality, Relationships Without BordersMatt Low and Immigration Equality" />