10 commandments for MPS school board members

It's been quite a week. Four new Milwaukee school board members were seated this Wednesday, at a meeting where we also elected our officers. Now, we're haggling over committee assignments. In the meantime, fights keep breaking out around schools, reporters have been calling about the flex cuffs issue, and the whole school district is ramping up for the board's budget deliberations, which start next week.

So, I hope you can forgive the fact that my Sunday school lesson planning started to blend in with my efforts to graciously welcome four new board members to what is a tough and strange job. Here are some tips for my colleagues:

I. You shall have no other gods before me. Often, you've got to put the district's interests before much of the rest of your life. Public service is really demanding. The job it reminds me of most is parenting: You must almost always be available. You're in charge of life-altering responsibilities. People are always asking you for money. No one will give any credit for your work until you're dead.

II. You shall not worship idols. Don't let the power go to your head. Everything we do should be for the children. (Why, yes, in fact, I do hear that chorus of angels singing in the background.)

III. You shall not take my name in vain. The public school district is essential to the well-being of the city and the state. Honor the hard work of the district's employees and children by not trashing the schools or letting unfair criticism go unaddressed.

IV. Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy. The First Commandment not withstanding, you do need to cut yourself some slack. Take it easy on yourself. You're human, after all.

V. Honor your father and your mother. We can't serve the children well if we don't respect their parents. Parents need to be offered a gracious and frequently repeated welcome to be part of the life of our schools.

VI. You shall not murder. Our community's failure to meet children's needs is killing them. School district…


It's just a yoke

Since I posted my last blog about going to Canada to marry my partner, several people have asked me, in essence, "Why bother?" Our same-sex marriage isn't recognized by the legal establishment here in the U.S., and I bemoaned in that blog the isolation I felt in Canada, taking this big step with none of my family present. So, to paraphrase one reader, "Why not just have a ceremony here, with friends and family, since the local legal result is the same?"

Here's my short list of the reasons committed same-sex couples should get married in Canada:

1. There's something more solid about the legal connection. I've been thinking about the word "conjugal," meaning "related to marriage," and its linguistic root: that "jug" in the middle is from "yeug," the Old English world for yoke. So, we're yoked together in the eyes of the law, two oxen pulling together as we do the hard work of daily family life. In fact, same-sex Canadian marriage is less easily dissolved than a heterosexual marriage here in the U.S., since Canadian law requires that at least one of us takes up residence in Canada for an entire year before filing for a divorce. It's their plan to repopulate the Yukon, I guess.

It's obvious that most people feel a relationship without legal acknowledgment is more fragile. Observers often don't value a commitment ceremony as much as a marriage, and since it's not official, the community (in the form of courts) doesn't have to be involved in any breakup. Divide up the cats, call the U-Haul, change your phone number -- you're done. If you're registered with your same-sex partner under the city of Milwaukee's domestic partnership ordinance, your partnership can be dissolved by marrying someone of the opposite sex, no questions asked.

2. We made a commitment to the kids. In taking this legal step, we committed to each other's children, too, for better or for worse. With four teenagers in the house, you can guess which side of that "or" we're on! But seriously…


In a winter wonderland

Last week's snow has melted, but I want to tell you something about it.

My partner, Tina, and I went to Vancouver, British Columbia, over spring break and got married. We'd been talking about it for a while, and the school recess gave us the opportunity to make it happen. Although our church in Milwaukee will gladly marry us, it wouldn't be legal here in the U.S. and somehow that paper recognition is important.

In Vancouver, it's already spring. We were there for almost a week and it never got below 40 degrees (or 5, as they say up there, eh?). There were flowers everywhere -- tulips, daffodils, hibiscus, azaleas, rhododendrons, and more. The whole city was one big florist's shop, showing up the wedding bouquets I had carefully ordered in advance.

We were married by a minister of the United Church of Canada who happens to be a legally wed lesbian and co-chair of Affirm United, the LGBT concerns division of the church. A legally married lesbian couple from the congregation, Rita and Colleen, were our witnesses and, until the event, strangers to us who nevertheless welcomed us with extravagant hospitality.

After the ceremony, our hired photographer showed us around town, posing us in picturesque settings along the waterfront and in the beloved Stanley Park. As we joyfully maneuvered the busy sidewalks of Vancouver with our matching bouquets, locals stepped up to congratulate us and wish us well. Some U.S. tourists gawked and I learned a new Spanish word for "dyke" from a Latino family in the park, but for the most part we were greeted in the indulgent way newlyweds typically are.

Embraced in the Christian love of the local church community, congratulated by strangers in the park, happily holding the hand of my new wife, I still felt alone somehow. My family, including the five children Tina and I have between us, couldn't be there; not only was it beyond our financial means, but new War-on-Terror travel requirements mean that each of them would have…