September 28, 2011 Articles

This I Believe: Happily Ever After

The author delivers a message on the importance of choice, which resonates across all lines of potential division, in NPR's "I Believe" series.

By Abbe Fletman

The following piece first aired on Jan. 16, 2009, on the Philadelphia affiliate of National Public Radio, as part of the "This I Believe" series. It was written by Abbe Fletman, a former cochair of the Woman Advocate Committee, who heads intellectual property litigation at the Flaster Greenberg firm in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Abbe is a member of the Council of the Section of Litigation, and has been involved in many other community service activities during the course of her 24-year legal career. Abbe has worked primarily as a corporate defense lawyer, representing clients in cases ranging from securities fraud to copyright infringement involving pesticide labels. When Abbe first began practicing law, being an openly gay lawyer in a long-term committed relationship was not necessarily a career enhancing move at a law firm. But Abbe made a choice early in her career to be herself, whether working in the office, in the community, or at home. In this day of divisive sound-bite politics, Abbe's temperate and equable message about the importance of choice resonates across all lines of potential division.

As a girl, fairytales 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. 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 20 years. Like us, they had never stood in front of all their friends and family to declare their love and commitment to each other. 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. Our teenage son and daughter walked us down the aisle. 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 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 till death. Publicly declaring our intention to take responsibility for each other as well as ourselves had meaning. 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 even at a time when half of all marriages are expected to end in divorce and fewer American couples are marrying. I had good role models in my own parents, who never seemed to tire of each other's company in their nearly 60 years of living and working together. The strong marriages I have witnessed not only produce happier people, but greater economic security and solid family units within which to raise children.

I, of course, 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 and should also have the legal rights so many others take for granted. For now, I've gotten my happily ever after—even if I still don't believe in fairytales.