A lavender marriage is a type of male-female marriage of convenience in which the couple are not both heterosexual, to conceal the homosexual or bisexual orientation of one or both spouses. In gay slang, the spouse whose presence conceals the other's sexual orientation is referred to as a "beard".
Although there have been a number of prominent lavender marriages in history, the phrase came into colloquial use during the 1920s when the imposition of morality clauses into the contracts of Hollywood actors caused some closeted stars to enter into marriages of convenience to protect their public reputations and preserve their careers. The destruction of the career of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer actor William Haines, who refused to end his relationship with his male partner Jimmy Shields and enter into a marriage at MGM's direction, was said to have prompted a number of marriages of this type. While the term is no longer in common usage, rumors suggesting that some high profile celebrity couples marry to conceal the sexual orientation of one or both partners continue to circulate.
Among the couples and individuals who have been reported to have entered "lavender marriages" are:
- Actor Rock Hudson, who, under movie studio pressure and worried about rumors that Confidential magazine was planning to expose his homosexuality, married Phyllis Gates, a young woman who worked for Hudson's agent.
- American theater actress and producer Katharine Cornell was married to theater director Guthrie McClintic. They lived together in their Manhattan townhouse, and she only appeared in productions that he directed. They remained married and devoted to each other until his death.
- The plot of the 1993 film The Wedding Banquet, which centers around a lavender marriage between two Chinese Americans.
- The 1996 episode of The Simpsons titled "A Fish Called Selma", in which Troy McClure enters into a lavender marriage with Selma Bouvier to conceal his unusual sexual desire for fish/aquatic animals.
- In the show Degrassi: The Next Generation the character Ashley Kerwin's parents were in a lavender marriage where the mother was heterosexual and the father was homosexual.
- In the Japanese manga series and film "Love My Life", the main character's parents are revealed to have been in a lavender marriage for the purposes of silencing their relatives and becoming parents.
- In the show Samantha Who? (2007-2009), the character Andrea Belladonna agrees to enter into a lavender marriage with gay basketball player Tony Dane.
- The Playboy Club, a 2011 television series on NBC, includes a lesbian Playboy Bunny in a lavender marriage with a gay man. The two are members of the Chicago chapter of the Mattachine Society.
- In James Frey's 2008 novel Bright Shiny Morning, the homosexual actor Amberton Parker is in a lavender marriage with actress Casey Parker, also homosexual, in order to conceal both of their sexual orientations.
- In the TV show Will & Grace, Will's friend Jack, who is openly gay, marries Karen's maid Rosario, who was an illegal alien. Although the marriage was strictly for immigration purposes, Jack and Rosario appear to genuinely come to care for each other and remain close even after the marriage is terminated.
- In the book series A Song of Ice and Fire, Renly Baratheon, youngest brother of former king Robert Baratheon, marries a girl from Highgarden named Margaery Tyrell. He is purported to be homosexual and in a relationship with Margaery's brother, Loras.
- In the manga X 1999, the marriage between Kyougo and Saya Monou (parents of Fuuma and Kotori) was all but stated to be this. Saya was in love with a woman named Tohru Magami (mother of the protagonist Kamui), and before her death she apologized to her husband for not being able to love him like she loved Tohru. This is confirmed later, when Saya's spirit appears in front of Kotori in a vision and tells her about, among other things, her love for Tohru. This side of their relatioship, however, was removed from the anime TV series.
- Alla Nazimova
- Boston marriage
- Doom Book
- Hollywood marriage
- Mariage blanc, an asexual marriage undertaken for the protection of one party
- Mixed-orientation marriage
- Sham marriage
- Trimmier, Benjamin. "Haines, William "Billy" (1900-1973)". glbtq.com. Retrieved 2007-04-28.
- Gates, Phyllis (1987). My husband, Rock Hudson: the real story of Rock Hudson's marriage to Phyllis Gates. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday. ISBN 978-0-385-24071-0.
- Mosel, "Leading Lady: The World and Theatre of Katharine Cornell," Little, Brown & Co, 1978.