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Happily ever after essays

As heard on the This I Believe podcast. January 4, 2016

After a lifetime of not believing in fairy tales, white dresses, and walking down the aisle, Abbe Fletman had a change of heart. After sharing a house, two children, and more than 20 years with her partner, Jane, Judge Fletman found that she really does believe in marriage—and living happily ever after.

As a girl, fairy tales never captivated me. I never saw myself meeting a handsome prince and living happily ever after. At the time my childhood girlfriends had these dreams, I didn’t understand why.

I met my partner in 1984. She was smart and funny, and I instantly connected with her. We quickly moved in together. Over time, we merged our finances and books, bought a house, and had children. We made a life together. Still, no visions of walking down the aisle in a frilly white dress filled my head.

Then our friends Andy and Larry got married. Like us, they had been together for more than twenty years. Like us, they were initially skeptical of replicating a heterosexual ritual that, for us, would carry no legal rights.

After this event, I began to think about marriage. Let’s be honest: I began to obsess about it. In part, my love of a good party fueled my enthusiasm. In December 2002, I got down on my knees and asked Jane to marry me. Fortunately, she agreed.

On October 3, 2003, we took our vows under a traditional Jewish chuppah, a canopy made of our son’s prayer shawl. Nearly everyone important to us was there, including my parents, who have since died, our children, and Jane’s brother and sister-in-law. Most of the significant people in our lives gave us blessings.

And so, I found, I believe in marriage. Although Jane and I had lived together for more than two decades, going through a marriage ceremony felt momentous, a feeling I had never anticipated. Writing a ketubah, a Jewish marriage contract, made us articulate our promises to each other, including that one of us would care for the other partner until death. While we were committed before, the combination of the public declaration and the written pledge somehow made it more concrete.

All this has led me to believe in marriage. Yes, even at a time when half of all marriages are expected to end in divorce and fewer American couples are marrying. I had a good role model in my own parents, who never seemed to tire of each other’s company in their nearly sixty years of living and working together. The strong marriages I have witnessed produce not only happier people but also greater economic security and solid family units within which to raise children.

Of course I don’t believe that everyone should marry or that people should stay in bad marriages, especially if they are violent or abusive. But I do believe that marriage should be available to all couples, whether straight or gay. We should equally have the ability to communally celebrate happy occasions. We also should have the legal rights so many others take for granted. Until then, I’ve gotten my “happily ever after.” All it took was wedding my “princess charming.”

Abbe Fletman is a judge in the criminal trial division of the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas. Before taking the bench, Judge Fletman received many accolades for her work as a trial lawyer handling complex commercial cases and pro bono matters, including representing female athletes in Title IX and equal protection cases. She and her wife, Jane Hinkle, were legally married in Delaware in 2013 and hope to celebrate their thirty-first anniversary with their two adult children this year.

Recorded at WHYY in Philadelphia and produced for radio by Elizabeth Perez Luna.

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