There's something wrong with a country that labels some marriages as "fraudulent," yet denies marriage to perfectly legitimate committed couples

I heard this story last night on NPR, which talked about recent sting operations that have caught people arranging "fraudulent marriages." The marriages in question are so-called "marriages of convenience," in which a foreign national pays a U.S. citizen to marry him or her in order to obtain a green card and an easier path to citizenship.

Why exactly is this illegal? Sure, some of the stories they mentioned involve U.S. citizens having engaged in multiple marriages, which I understand is illegal (and enforceable -- either you're already legally married or you're not, provided you're an opposite-sex couple). But in the other instances, why is it the government's business to judge these couples, and better yet, why are they spending my money to do it?

(Yes, emphasis on my money, since they seem to be fine taking my taxes and making me file federal taxes as single but not letting me and my spouse have any of the 1,138 federal rights that married couples are supposed to be entitled to.)

What law is being broken here? The story emphasized that many of these couples had met on the same day they were to be married. Since when does that break any U.S. law? Arranged marriages are practiced as a cultural norm by many people, including U.S. citizens, and I've never heard of anyone being arrested for marrying someone chosen by their parents and/or their community.

The story also emphasized that the U.S. citizens had received money for agreeing to these marriages. As far as I know, receiving money such as a dowry as part of a marriage agreement is also not illegal in the U.S., and is certainly practiced by some subgroups here. And I'd like to see the U.S. government try to tell me that no "normal American" ever marries for money or possessions. Riiight.

So, what law is being broken here exactly? The way secular American marriage laws are set up, any consenting opposite-sex couple is allowed to marry for any reason they choose. There are no laws governing the reasons for marrying, the length the couple has known each other, or the way the couple and their families do or do not exchange material goods during the process. There are supposedly laws stating that the intention of marriage is that the couple loves one another, but there's no way to measure that. Especially given that it's legal in the U.S. for a married couple to live apart, to not have sexual relations, to have separate finances, and so forth. Really, there are no enforceable rules regarding marriage in the U.S. aside from "one marriage at a time" and "one man, one woman." The government is not interested in denying marriage to opposite-sex couples who are both citizens. The government is interested in discriminating against non-citizens and queers.

If the government really wants to ensure that marriages only be granted for "proper reasons" or whatever, we should abolish secular marriage and move to a system in which religious bodies grant marriage licenses. I absolutely don't mean a situation in which one state-sponsored church is the only body that can grant a marriage. I'm thinking more like a system where any denomination that fulfils certain criteria -- including things like athiest communities -- would be able to sponsor a couple who wishes to get married. If a couple's community of choice backed the couple as being a "real" relationship, the community could bless (or nonbless, or whatever) the marriage.

Personally, I think this hypothetical system also has tons of flaws -- and I'm not sure I like the idea of unseparating church and state -- but this system at least illustrates a more just alternative to the current system of "anyone can marry except for queers and fore-in-urrs." Clearly, we either need: A) a system in which absolutely any consenting couple can marry, or B) a system in which some sort of fairly objective process is used to assess whether a decent amount of reasonable people view the couple as valid to marry.


Suldog said...


I've long been of the opinion that the state should get out of the mariage business. I feel, as most Libertarians do, that the state has no right to decide what constitutes a legitimate marriage and what doesn't.

By the state putting its imprimatur on a marriage certificate, they are basically saying "this belief system is legitimate, but this one isn't."

I actually wrote a couple of press releases concerning this issue, while I was State Chair of the party some 5 or 6 years back, but they got the usual amount of ink - zero :-)

eeka said...

With the state out of it, it would at least be equal.

I mean, some of the benefits of marriage are just silly. Why does anyone need a tax break because they're married? Why should the government reward marriage? Marriage is a great thing for many people, but so are a lot of other choices, so why reward marriage in particular?

But if they're gonna give them out to any married couple, then dammit, I want mine as well!