A lavender marriage is a type of male-female marriage of convenience in which the couple are not both heterosexual and 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 itself 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 MGM 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.
- British diplomat Harold Nicolson and his wife Vita Sackville-West, who were both bisexual, were monogamous early in their marriage but after the births of their two sons acknowledged their preferences for their own sex and engaged in love affairs.
- American composer Cole Porter, in 1919, married Linda Lee Thomas, a rich divorcee from Kentucky. Thomas was aware of Porter's homosexuality. Porter also preferred the heterosexual image that offered his budding career. They remained together until her death.
- 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 British homosexual poet W. H. Auden married Erika Mann, daughter of Thomas Mann, not as cover for his sexuality but to enable her to get British citizenship. They never lived together but remained friends and married until Erika died.
- 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 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.
- 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.
- Nicolson, Nigel. Portrait of a Marriage. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1978.
- Mosel, "Leading Lady: The World and Theatre of Katharine Cornell," Little, Brown & Co, 1978.