Queer Issue 2012
Over a bottle of red wine and a frilly white photo album, Mary is recounting the day she married Kurt.
"He wanted a church ceremony because he grew up Catholic," she explains. "So we found a gay-friendly one in which to get straight married." They had a sense of humor about the whole thing. After all, Kurt is gay. Kurt's boyfriend was his best man, while Mary's boyfriend was the ring bearer. Bride and groom wore Jil Sander (Kurt picked out her dress—one of the many stylish perks of marrying a gay man). And when the pastor pronounced them husband and wife, their tight collection of friends hooted and hollered through a decidedly squeamish kiss while the bride's mother sniffled with joy.
"Clichéd as it sounds, my wedding day was one of the happiest of my life," she says. But it was a green-card wedding, done so that Kurt could stay in the United States with his boyfriend. According to the US government, these sorts of marriages are totally illegal, which is why I've changed their names and other details. If the truth were ever discovered by US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), Kurt would face deportation and Mary would face up to five years in prison and as much as $250,000 in fines.
Kurt wasn't born in the United States, and although he'd legally entered the country with a work visa years earlier, it had expired. So despite being a college-educated man working for a high-paying company—a company that fought hard to get his visa renewed—he lived in limbo with the constant threat of deportation. Obviously, gay marriage wasn't an option. When Kurt's mother was diagnosed with cancer, he couldn't return home to comfort her, because he wasn't married at the time and US authorities would not have let him back in. He also missed his sister's wedding.
So after talking it over with her boyfriend and receiving his blessing, Mary decided to marry Kurt herself.
According to the Center for Immigration Studies, marriage is the most common route to US citizenship for foreign-born nationals. Between 1998 and 2007, more than 2.3 million people gained lawful permanent resident status by marrying American citizens. A 2008 report from the immigration center estimated that between 5 and 30 percent of those marriages were fraudulent.
For many gay foreign-born men and women, fraud is their only recourse if they want to stay in this country—by either marrying a friend or paying a stranger to marry them. Thanks to the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), gay marriage is not recognized at the federal level, even as it becomes legal in more states. So even if voters were to pass gay marriage in Washington State this November, people like Kurt and his longtime partner still couldn't get married and have their union recognized by USCIS.
Even with the clout of her American vagina, Mary and Kurt had to hire an immigration lawyer who prepped them on how to convince USCIS that their marriage was "real." Mary describes it as a relatively painless, if tedious, process: Over several years, they filled out paperwork, turned in everything from cell-phone bills and lease agreements to prove they were living together (which they were), to pictures of their wedding day and honeymoon in Miami (Kurt paid—the honeymoon and one "fancy-ass" dinner a week was what Mary demanded for the inconvenience of being his wife). They were also subjected to interviews with USCIS officials, where they answered glancingly intimate questions about each other's likes and dislikes. After one USCIS interview, Kurt cried from the stress. Mary soothed him with an evening of ice cream sundaes and Breakfast at Tiffany's.
Mary says that before the wedding, friends and family members—people who knew and loved Kurt—took her quietly aside and asked if she was sure she wanted to go through with it. The penalties for being caught committing marriage fraud are suitably frightening.
"I was sure because I don't believe our marriage was a fraud," she says. "Marriage is an institution built on love and practicality, and we entered into it with more thought and deliberation than most. Refusing to fuck each other brainless shouldn't disqualify us from the same legal and financial perks that other heterosexual couples enjoy, like tax breaks, shared insurance plans—which was invaluable to me as an uninsured artist—and for him, a clear path to citizenship."
In fact, you could stupidly argue that Mary was doing God's work. It's what the religious right professes to want—straight women marrying gay men, tempting them to join the path of righteousness by wagging vaginas in front of their faces every day.
And frankly, if her gay best friend can't marry the gay love of his life or the platonically straight love of his life, who the fuck can he marry?
Since the wedding, Mary has met four other women who've discreetly married their gay friends to help them get green cards. She discreetly introduced me to a few. While their weddings were all dramatically different, their reasons for getting hitched were identical: Love is much bigger than a marital bed, they said. We object to using marriage as a roadblock to citizenship. And if the government isn't going to allow gay men and women to marry the people they love, we'll simply marry them ourselves.
Love but no sex: Consider it a modern-day take on traditional 1950s marriages.
But like half of all modern American marriages, Mary's is destined to end. Recently, her husband received his green card, which the pair toasted with champagne and celebratory sex (with their respective partners). Now comes the fun part: Throwing a fabulous divorce party. "It's something we've been planning and saving up for since our wedding day," Mary says. She looked into hosting it in a church. "I wanted God to bless our real divorce just as He blessed our fake marriage," she explains. "No dice." But it will be an epic affair with all of the couple's friends, an open bar with ice luge, a chocolate fountain, and, if Mary gets her way, "a motherfucking gospel choir singing Hallelujah!"