“Ask a Priest: Is a Fake Marriage OK in Order to Ease Immigration?”

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Q: What is the Catholic Church’s position on marriage for a green card, then after a few years a divorce? As a single male I have been asked to do this multiple times, sometimes for money and sometimes because a woman wanted to escape poverty or a totalitarian regime. I assume that if one were to marry for the sake of being paid, it is an obvious sin as it is defrauding the U.S. immigration system. But what about the cases for sincere individuals hoping for a better life in the United States? An example would be a single woman in China who wanted to escape the Communist Party but cannot leave by normal methods of immigration (such as applying for citizenship or being granted asylum in another country) and her last option was marrying someone in the U.S. I am not an expert in canon law, but I would like to assume that this isn’t necessarily sinning (or, as I like to call it, “trampling” on the sanctity of marriage) if the marriage wasn’t consummated and no monetary payment was received and both persons would live together as brother and sister. I know I will be asked this question again in the future. As an individual who suffers from same-sex attraction, I do not believe the vocation of marriage will happen in my case. However, if I am able to help an individual escape poverty (or a similar situation) while refraining from sexual contact, then divorce after a few years later, would this constitute a sin or not? – M.G.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: This is a complex question, in part because, as you say, it involves defrauding the government.

As Catholics we are called to be good citizens and to obey just laws. Immigration laws might not be perfect, but that doesn’t automatically give anyone the right to cheat in order to get around them.

Aside from the fraud, there are a few practical problems that come to mind.

First, someone who knows you to be a Catholic might be scandalized that you are entering a civil marriage — and a number of them, at that. People would assume that you and your “bride” are living as husband and wife. A Catholic going through a series of civil marriages and divorces wouldn’t be giving bold witness to the faith.

Second, and this follows on the first point, the incidence of civil divorce itself can weaken public respect for the institution of marriage in general. Marriage was traditionally seen as a lifelong commitment which helped stabilize families and communities. Your example of multiple marriages and divorces wouldn’t do much to build up respect for the institution of marriage.

Third, your deception could impact others financially. For instance, if you work for a company whose medical insurance covers spouses, the company could end paying for your “wife’s” expenses which could strain the firm’s finances. This in turn could affect other employees and their insurance rates.

Fourth, if someday you move beyond the same-sex attraction and want to marry in the Church, those civil marriages could cause a bit of embarrassment.

Those first three points could involve sinful behavior. So you might want to take some of this to prayer.

This short answer in no way is meant to downplay the tragic plight of poor would-be immigrants who have been stuck in a kind of limbo on the U.S. border.

The immigration crisis is real, and one that aches for political solutions as well as for displays of basic Christian charity.

Let’s pray that it is a problem that finds a proper and just solution, one that includes charity and respect for the rule of law.

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