In 2001 writer Liza Monroy married her best friend Emir. You’re probably thinking, “So what? People get married all the time.” Sure, they do, but Emir is gay and an immigrant from the Middle East. Furthermore, it was right after the tragedy of 9/11 when anyone Muslim was seen with suspicion.
Emir was desperate to stay in the United States, and a green card wasn’t exactly forthcoming. He despaired going back to his home country where he could be abused or even killed for simply being gay. So Monroy asked Emir to marry her in hope it would speed up him getting a green card and becoming an American citizen. And she writes about their friendship, marriage and other personal experiences in The Marriage Act-The Risk I Took to Keep My Best Friend in America, and What It Taught Us About Love.
Monroy met Emir when they were students at Emerson College in Boston. They spoke three languages, had lived in various locations around the globe, and desired creative careers. They clicked immediately and developed a platonically loving relationship with no expectations that it would become romantic. As you already know Emir is gay and at the time Monroy was engaged to her high school sweetheart Julian.
Monroy and Emir remained friends after graduation, navigating the adult world of jobs, money, relationships and other assorted stepping stones to hard-won maturity. Both aspired to be screenwriters or doing something else that would fulfill their artistic ambitions.
Then the horror of 9/11 occurred, and Emir feared he would be deported to his native country (which is never named, and Emir is a pseudonym). So Monroy, whose engagement to Julian busted up, did what she felt she had to do to keep her best friend in America. She asked him to marry her.
Despite some reservations from Emir, he and Monroy went out to Las Vegas where they were married by an Elvis impersonator (nearly forgetting to procure a marriage license in the process).
After this quickie wedding, Monroy and Emir “settled” into domestic bliss (granted one that is based on a sham and one where they get to date other people-oh, wait, a lot of legit marriages are like this). They also moved from place to place, went out partying and clubbing, and worked various jobs while wondering if their hopes and dreams would ever reach fruition.
Of course, Monroy and Emir dealt with a situation that is far different than their peers dealt with-their so-called marriage. They tried desperately to make sure their marriage looked like the real deal to co-workers and acquaintances. Another complication for Monroy and Emir? Monroy’s mother worked in the Foreign Service focusing mostly on immigration issues. Can we say awkward? Oh, and let’s not forget that Emir also had to hide his sexual orientation from his homophobic father.
And then there is that pesky INS who needed to Monroy and Emir about the validity who needs to question the couple about the validity of their marriage. At one point an agent asked Monroy if her husband is circumcised. Of course, Monroy doesn’t rightly know considering Emir is gay and she’s never seen his penis.
Just as Monroy and Emir are wondering if they can continue to fool their families, friends, and co-workers Emir lucks into winning a green card through a lottery system. Their marriage ends, yet their friendship stays strong. Emir is free to be who he is (and stay in the United States). And Monroy ends up marrying Julian, yep, her old fiancé.
Does this lead to a happily ever after for Monroy and Emir?
Well, after reading The Marriage Act, I was too blasé to even care. The Marriage Act is well-written. Monroy has a distinct and engaging voice, which are traits so necessary to keep a person reading. At first, I really got caught up in Monroy and Emir’s plight. I had to ask myself if I could have done the same thing, and I don’t think I have the ovaries for such an undertaking.
But as The Marriage Act unfolded then I didn’t find myself caring about their situation. I never truly felt that Monroy and Emir were in danger for faking a marriage despite Emir’s father’s alleged homophobia and Monroy’s mother’s job. In fact, I think Emir’s father’s money and Monroy’s mother’s connections may have helped them in the end.
And then there is Monroy and Emir themselves. Monroy comes across as flighty and irresponsible. She’s desperate, clingy and despite her lackadaisical work style keeps getting promotions at her William Morris job. At times Emir comes across as a cardboard cut-out like a gay best friend seen in countless romantic comedies.
Still, The Marriage Act is not a horrible book. And I did appreciate how it brought up thorny issues like immigration, bigotry, homophobia, politics and the possibility of same sex marriage. I just wish it would have delved into these topics with more depth, but perhaps that’s something Monroy didn’t want to broach. Perhaps some readers of this book will ponder these topics further…or maybe Monroy will do that in a future book now that she was some time and maturity under her belt.