Alex Blaze

What Makes a Marriage a Sham?

Filed By Alex Blaze | October 19, 2011 6:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living, Marriage Equality, Politics
Tags: lesbian, LGBT, Marines, marriage, military, sham marriage

How is a marriage a sham marriage?

A military-civilian lesbian couple each married a male marine to get a bonus so that they could live together off-base. love-chapel.jpgThe LA Times doesn't mention anything about them not officially being married or committing fraud to get married - the women and their husbands were of legal age to get married, weren't married to other people, and were, in fact, married.

Three Marine corporals have been given bad-conduct discharges after pleading guilty to sham marriages meant to allow a lesbian couple to receive housing allowances, the Marine Corps said Monday.[...]

Cpl. Ashley Vice and her partner, civilian Jaime Murphy, said they needed the housing allowances so they could afford to live together in an off-base apartment "like a normal couple."

Vice and Murphy each found a male Marine willing to marry them so that they could get the $1,200 a month housing allowance meant for married Marines, officials said.

Along with the bad-conduct discharges, Vice, Cpl. Jeremiah Griffin and Cpl. Joseph Garner were each fined $5,000 and sentenced to confinement from three to six months. The three pleaded guilty to stealing from the government through fraud.

The marriages are "shams" because... the women didn't actually love their husbands? Well, then there are millions of marriages that should immediately be dissolved in the US. Is it because they weren't having sex? If marriage is tied to monetary benefits and sex is required for marriage, we have a state-sanctioned and -administered form of prostitution, nothing more.

The article doesn't have any more information about what specifically made the marriages shams. But doing it for money shouldn't be the standard - the government often argues that it should be allowed to give benefits to heterosexually married couples in order to encourage straight marriage and courts have allowed discrimination against and denying benefits to unmarried couples on the grounds that the government has an interest in getting people into marriages.

It sounds like these women were doing just that, getting into heterosexual marriages. If the government really believes that there's a benefit to getting people into marriages, then what difference does the participants' reasoning make?

Were they supposed to live with their husbands? Is that the standard? If so, could they have gotten away with getting a house big enough for all four of them? Would the marriages have been acceptable only if they were sleeping with their husbands?

Was their money being transferred between people in these couples? Not only is that unmentioned in the LA Times article, so I doubt there was a concrete money arrangement, but marriage inherently involves the transfer of property and money among its participants. If Person A falls in love with and marries Person B, and Person B happens to have a lucrative job while Person A doesn't work and spends Person B's money, then is that marriage a sham?

If we really wanted people to get married only if they're in love, only if it's really their own choice, then we'd stop tying so many material benefits to the institution of marriage. Make sure everyone has decent health care so they didn't have to go through someone else's employer. Open up our borders and make the immigration process easier so that marriage isn't some people's only option when it comes to staying in the US. Give marines $600 each to live off-base so that marrying another marine wouldn't have an impact. Etc.

I suppose the argument is that these enticements are aimed at couples in a conjugal relationship who might not otherwise marry. I'd call those marriages shams as well, since a better definition of a sham marriage is people who don't want to get married getting married, not people who aren't sexing each other getting married. The latter definition puts people's sex lives in the public sphere and in front of the law... for lots of reasons, I'm uncomfortable with that.

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Thanks for this, Alex. That story really bugged me too but I couldn't quite put my finger on why it did. You nailed it.

DaveinNorthridge | October 19, 2011 6:30 PM

You did, yes, but I wonder, since I know about at least one marriage like this that was consummated during the 1980s, how many cases JUST like this haven't been prosecuted. This of course could have been prevented if there was no such thing as DOMA or Prop.8, but . . . .

Nailed it. This is my problem with immigration green-card "sham" marriages, too. What exactly makes those "illegal"? Why do they need to prove they're "in love"? If heterosexual marriages don't hinge on a love meter to be legally valid, then what constitutes "genuine" marriages?

If marriage, government-wise, is a legal contract, then what business does the fidelity of the interpersonal feelings of that contract matter so long as no one's violating the contract by trying to take on multiple ones? (In fact, the only "violation" of that situation I could think of was someone essentially being a bigamist.)

What people who would call those marriages "shams" don't want to cop to is that it's a "sham" marriage by their definition that marriages are interpersonal emotional contracts, not just financial, legal ones. And if that's the case, those three may have a "sham" marriage, but it also takes away the right to argue that the two women shouldn't have been allowed to get married to each other in the first place, since then it would be genuine because of their feelings for one another.

Living off base isn't a right, it is an accomodation for the convenience of the government when base housing isn't available. The Marines involved were provided housing in the enlisted barracks. They didn't like those arrangements, so they mislead their command about their living situation.

Thanks for the great post, Alex. I've cited to it over on my blog.