For much of the 20th century and before that, gay people faced persecution and even prosecution at every turn. Gay men had it harder than gay women, as laws were specifically aimed at gay guys.
So it’s perhaps no surprise that so many male homosexuals took shelter within the confines of a heterosexual marriage to reduce speculation about their sexuality and keep them safe from the long arm of the law and societal disdain.
Here are 15 of those folks you just might recognize, including number 12, which “rocked” the world!
15. Freddie Mercury
Everybody knew Freddy Mercury was gay before he came out of the closet, but for a long, long time he lived in a common-law marriage with a lady called Mary Austin. When he passed away, it was Mary he left all his money to and not his gay partner.
14. Peter March Jacobson
Peter went the whole hog and got formally married to Fran Drescher. He did pretty well at committing to that life as it took him more than 20 years before he finally came out as a gay man. Fran is still friends with Peter which says a lot about her as a person.
13. Elton John
This may seem bizarre from today’s perspective but Elton John married Renate Blauel back in 1984. It wasn’t a very successful marriage because the media realized immediately that it was just supposed to cover up Elton’s sexuality. Today he’s married to David Furnish which seems more appropriate.
12. Rock Hudson
There was a time when being gay was a seriously career-endangering move. Movie star Rock Hudson always knew he was gay (as did his friends) but he still married Phyllis Gates and they lived together for 3 years before divorcing to try and keep his cover as a straight guy.
11. Jack Wrangler
Jack Wrangler was a porn star. He was absolutely open about being gay throughout his life. He was also married to Margaret Whiting for most of his life. He said he couldn’t marry a guy because they’d have been in competition all the time. They were still married when he died.
10. Vincent Minnelli
Vincent lived a double life. In New York, everybody thought he was gay and he lived a gay lifestyle. In L.A. everyone knew him as straight, and he married no less than four women during his life. He wasn’t bisexual though — he was almost certainly gay and covering up for it.
9. Tony Richardson
Tony Richardson took a long time to come out of the closet. He had many relationships with women in the public eye and married Vanessa Redgrave for a period of 4 years. He came out as a bisexual not long before his death in 1991. He was one of the first celebrities to die of AIDS-related complications.
8. Alan Cumming
The star of The Good Wife had a wife in the form of Hilary Lyon and they were married for 8 years. Then after his divorce, Alan shacked up with and then married his current partner Grant Schaffer. He says he’s not gay, just bisexual now. Just like many of the parts he plays on TV.
7. Oscar Wilde
Possibly the most famous gay man in history, Oscar Wilde was actually sent to jail because people thought he was gay. He had married Constance Lloyd and they’d had a family together but he was constantly on the prowl for a “bit of rough.” He died as a result of the strain jail placed upon his health at 46.
6. Little Richard
Little Richard’s camp performances had convinced the world that he was gay and thus his marriage to Ernestine Campbell came completely out of the blue. He later confessed that he was gay and had been using the marriage to try and cover it up. What incredible pressure he must have felt to conform.
5. Peter Allen
Peter Allen was married to Liza Minelli and infamously would be her first husband. They spent a grand total of 7 years together before calling it quits. Then a few years later without much fuss, Peter came out as gay and was living with his long-term partner Gregory Connell until he died in 1984.
4. James McGreevey
The nation’s first governor to publicly out himself might have been hailed for his courage if it hadn’t taken a lawsuit from a member of his male staff for sexual harassment for him to do so. He was married at that time and his marriage, unsurprisingly, didn’t survive the political fallout.
3. Cole Porter
Everybody knew Cole Porter was gay, including his wife Linda Lee Thomas. It was a sham marriage, but not an unloving one. He provided her with kindness and social status (which she’d have lost by being a divorcee) and she gave him a shield to hide from the public behind. They were married right up to the day that she died.
2. Anthony Perkins
Anthony’s marriage to Berry Berenson brought two children. However, both of them knew that he was really gay and he’d been having a string of affairs with men both before and during their marriage. It’s possible that one of those affairs was with Steven Sondheim. Sadly, he died of AIDS-related complications in 1992.
1. Richard Cromwell
Richard Cromwell didn’t do very well in his fake marriage. He got together with Angela Lansbury who has just 19 when he was 35. They divorced after a year. She said that the divorce was because of his sexuality. It was clear afterwards that he preferred men to women.
We definitely live in a better world today for all its faults. Gay folks can live their lives free of persecution and judgment in the West, and they no longer face prison sentences just for choosing to love someone.
It’s fair to say that it’s also a better world for the women who once found themselves used as a shield for a gay man’s lifestyle too. While some of the women named here were complicit in their partner’s deception, many were not.
It must have been a terrible thing to find that your husband wasn’t interested in you as a sexual entity. Progress is a good thing for everyone.