Lavender Marriage

cruise and holmes

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 heterosexual spouse in a lavender marriage is referred to as a ‘beard’ for a wife.

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 birth of their two sons acknowledged their preference for the same gender 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, but since her first husband was reportedly abusive, friends speculate she preferred the idea of a marriage based on mutual respect. Porter also preferred the heterosexual image this offered his budding career. They remained together until her death.

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