Oregon’s first lady confessed Thursday to a sham 1997 marriage in which she wedded an Ethiopian teenager seeking U.S. citizenship in exchange for about $5,000.
Cylvia Hayes, the fiancée of Democratic Gov. John Kitzhaber, was a 29-year-old college student in need of cash when she married the 18-year-old, the Associated Press reported. “It was a marriage of convenience,” Hayes said in a press conference Thursday. “He needed help, and I needed financial support.”
Hayes, already twice divorced, met the man only a handful of times throughout the course of the green-card marriage. The two finalized their divorce in 2002.
“This was a difficult and unstable period in my life,” Hayes said. “I was struggling to put myself through college and was offered money in exchange for marrying a young person who had a chance to get a college degree himself if he were able to remain in the United States.”
Hayes said she later turned her life around and became involved in volunteering and politics, but the marriage remained a source of shame.
“It was wrong then and it is wrong now and I am here today to accept the consequences,” a tearful Hayes, now 47, told reporters. She revealed that she hadn’t told the governor about the arrangement until a local reporter began asking questions this week.
Kitzhaber was “stunned and hurt” by the revelation, Hayes said, but he accepted her apology. “And I will be eternally grateful for the beautiful, loving way he has supported me.”