How is a marriage a sham marriage?
A military-civilian lesbian couple each married a male marine to get a bonus so that they could live together off-base. The LA Times doesn't mention anything about them not officially being married or committing fraud to get married - the women and their husbands were of legal age to get married, weren't married to other people, and were, in fact, married.
Three Marine corporals have been given bad-conduct discharges after pleading guilty to sham marriages meant to allow a lesbian couple to receive housing allowances, the Marine Corps said Monday.[...]
Cpl. Ashley Vice and her partner, civilian Jaime Murphy, said they needed the housing allowances so they could afford to live together in an off-base apartment "like a normal couple."
Vice and Murphy each found a male Marine willing to marry them so that they could get the $1,200 a month housing allowance meant for married Marines, officials said.
Along with the bad-conduct discharges, Vice, Cpl. Jeremiah Griffin and Cpl. Joseph Garner were each fined $5,000 and sentenced to confinement from three to six months. The three pleaded guilty to stealing from the government through fraud.
The marriages are "shams" because... the women didn't actually love their husbands? Well, then there are millions of marriages that should immediately be dissolved in the US. Is it because they weren't having sex? If marriage is tied to monetary benefits and sex is required for marriage, we have a state-sanctioned and -administered form of prostitution, nothing more.
The article doesn't have any more information about what specifically made the marriages shams. But doing it for money shouldn't be the standard - the government often argues that it should be allowed to give benefits to heterosexually married couples in order to encourage straight marriage and courts have allowed discrimination against and denying benefits to unmarried couples on the grounds that the government has an interest in getting people into marriages.
It sounds like these women were doing just that, getting into heterosexual marriages. If the government really believes that there's a benefit to getting people into marriages, then what difference does the participants' reasoning make?
Were they supposed to live with their husbands? Is that the standard? If so, could they have gotten away with getting a house big enough for all four of them? Would the marriages have been acceptable only if they were sleeping with their husbands?
Was their money being transferred between people in these couples? Not only is that unmentioned in the LA Times article, so I doubt there was a concrete money arrangement, but marriage inherently involves the transfer of property and money among its participants. If Person A falls in love with and marries Person B, and Person B happens to have a lucrative job while Person A doesn't work and spends Person B's money, then is that marriage a sham?
If we really wanted people to get married only if they're in love, only if it's really their own choice, then we'd stop tying so many material benefits to the institution of marriage. Make sure everyone has decent health care so they didn't have to go through someone else's employer. Open up our borders and make the immigration process easier so that marriage isn't some people's only option when it comes to staying in the US. Give marines $600 each to live off-base so that marrying another marine wouldn't have an impact. Etc.
I suppose the argument is that these enticements are aimed at couples in a conjugal relationship who might not otherwise marry. I'd call those marriages shams as well, since a better definition of a sham marriage is people who don't want to get married getting married, not people who aren't sexing each other getting married. The latter definition puts people's sex lives in the public sphere and in front of the law... for lots of reasons, I'm uncomfortable with that.