There has been a lot of talk about marriages of convenience within the LGBTQI+ community. Marriages of convenience in a general sense have been around for centuries, but in the context of our community have only recently become more visible due to social media & technology.
So, what is a marriage of convenience? A simple definition of it is a marriage that is arranged for practical, financial, or political reasons. In South Asian communities, you have two types of marriages of convenience, one is for a green card to gain entrance into a desired country, and the other is to enter a marriage where both parties are queer for social gain. A marriage of convenience is a form of arranged marriage, the only key difference is that you’re arranging the marriage for yourself instead of through your parents or a matchmaker.
These types of marriages aren’t favourable in the developed countries where individualism is given greater weight. Green card marriages are more well known in mainstream media. But we are going to talk about the latter type of marriage of convenience where queer people are marrying to hide their sexuality.
Marriage of convenience in the LGBTQIA+ community involves finding another person who identifies as queer via the internet, who shares a similar motive for marrying you. You enter a marriage and maintain the public façade of a heterosexual relationship; visiting family together, and possibly even living together, but secretly dating your own partners of your preferred gender. This relationship involves lying to everyone around you and maintaining a lie for your entire life – or the course of the marriage. Marriage of convenience is popular amongst LGBTQI+ in south Asian communities and is believed to be caused by cultural problems rather than religious ones.
There is a popular psychological theory known as Maslow’s hierarchy of need. The theory breaks down the needs of human beings to be categorised by how vital they are to your physical and psychological health. When these are applied to marriages of convenience, they fulfil the need to belong and gain esteem, or validation within your community. It can also fulfil lower needs as you may enter these arrangements for safety, especially if you fear for your wellbeing if you’re queer in a conservative environment.
A Muslim woman in the UK is under no political pressure from the state to marry as she has the opportunity to find a job and live independently. However, she will be under social pressure from her community and even her family to marry so she can live up to expectations. A common motivation for entering a marriage of convenience is fear of being disowned. Family ties are more important than being able to live openly for those that enter these arrangements. Another is you fear your safety if your community or family found out your sexuality.
A marriage of convenience is a band aid slapped on a problem; treating the symptom but not the cause
When your family migrates over they can become nostalgic for their home country which can distort their views and make them more conservative than they were before moving over – this also involves bringing over imperial laws that Great Britain graced everyone with when they colonised the land. These homophobic laws have had a long-lasting effect and many cultures are still trying to undo the damage left by British Imperials.
While marriages of convenience may be a good temporary solution for queer people in South Asian communities, it is not a sustainable one. A marriage of convenience is a band aid slapped on a problem; treating the symptom but not the cause.
These marriages take years to set up; You have to go through the process of finding a partner – making sure you’re compatible and share similar goals. Then there is the logistics of the marriage and what will happen afterwards. Your potential partner won’t be from the same location as you so you’ll have to decide who moves where; this mean upheaval of your current lifestyle to find your place in a new community and make new connections.
The amount of time and planning involved in covering up your sexuality will be exhausting. And it prevents you from getting married to the person you love, and gaining the benefits of being married or in a civil partnership.
What can we do about this situation?
The only thing we can do about marriages of convenience is opening a dialogue with the community and not vilifying those that do wish to go through with these marriages.
It is important not to blame and shame the people that go into these marriages for mutual protection. Instead we should give them a support network where they shouldn’t have to rely on family; as well as educate the community so families will be more understanding.