A sham marriage is a marriage entered into for reasons other than romantic love. Such marriages can be formed out of a desire to hide unpopular personal lifestyles, to gain citizenship into a country, or in a traditional political marriage to unite disputing or disparate factions. This last type of sham marriage was especially popular in the Middle Ages when marriages between different royal families and nations could form stronger bonds and power centers throughout Europe. In many countries, sham marriages entered into for one person to gain citizenship in the country is illegal and can result in fines or deportation.
Though marriages among royal factions or bloodlines are rarer today than in the past, some forms of sham marriage have still remained in use. A sham marriage between a man and a woman, where one or both of them are homosexual, is often referred to as a lavender marriage. This type of marriage has been entered into by celebrities and actors, especially during the 20th century, to maintain a particular public image or imposed sense of decency. Since public regard toward homosexuality has often been negative and those who were openly homosexual have often been chastised or assaulted, some people who worked in the public eye had to hide their true orientation. American actor Rock Hudson is one of the most famous examples of a lavender marriage, when he married a woman at the insistence of the film studio he worked for.
A sham marriage can also sometimes be entered into to help an immigrant on temporary citizenship status remain in a country indefinitely. As these types of marriages became increasingly common, many countries around the world passed laws to prevent such practices or punish those who entered into them. In the United States (US), the Immigration Marriage Fraud Amendments of 1986 imposed a 90-day review period following any marriage involving a person who is not a permanent US citizen.
For the first two years of a marriage that includes a non-citizen, the person only has conditional immigrant status in the US, and the married couple must prove the validity of their marriage to ensure full citizenship status for the person. In a sham marriage for citizenship, if the marriage is determined by the government to be invalid, the conditional immigrant status can be revoked and the person may be deported. Other countries have similar laws and penalties in place to try to ensure that marriage is not used as a loophole to gain citizenship.