Teege and David Mettille made history by becoming the first gay foster parents in Outagamie County, but they’re held back from full legal parenting rights of the child they adopted last month.
Teege Mettille, an Appleton alderman who represents a downtown district, is Logan’s father in the eyes of the 3-year-old, but not the state. He and his partner, David, adopted the toddler last month after raising him in foster care for more than two years.But Wisconsin’s ambiguous adoption laws and a patchwork of interpretations by judges mean gay couples in the state frequently settle on single-parent adoptions to start their families, the Appleton Post-Crescent reported (http://post.cr/Yne5Du). The risk is enormous.
Because only David is legally recognized as the parent of Logan, Teege can’t sign field trip forms or visit the boy if he’s hospitalized. And if David dies while the boy is a minor or if the couple splits up, “I’d become a stranger to Logan in the eyes of the state.”
After the Mettilles became Logan’s foster parents and it became clear the boy needed a permanent home, the couple explored adoption.
“We worked with Lutheran Social Services and they recommended we go with a single-parent adoption because there was no precedent in Outagamie County for both of us to adopt,” Teege Mettille said.
Wisconsin law outlines adoption for married husbands and wives jointly, or single individuals. Because the state does not allow same-sex couples to wed, it makes “co-parent” adoptions difficult.
With Republicans in control of the Capitol, gay rights advocates don’t expect changes to make it easier for same-sex couples to adopt. And a constitutional amendment passed in 2006 makes it impossible for them to wed. Still, acceptance and tolerance continue to blossom, said Katie Belanger, executive director of Fair Wisconsin, a Madison-based group that advocates for LGBT equality.
“Tammy Baldwin’s victory statewide proves that as a state we value treating people fairly and with respect,” Belanger said. “More and more LGBT families are sharing their stories about how their families aren’t much different than other families.”
After a battle on Appleton’s council in 2011 about domestic partner benefits for city workers, Teege Mettille said the Fox Valley was accused of becoming “Madison of the north.” He and David say they are at ease in Appleton, and say the pejorative is a point of pride.
David, 28, and Teege, 32, were the first gay couple in Outagamie County to be recognized as foster parents. They say the parenting classes, home inspections and paperwork prepared them for the adoption process.
Outagamie County Judge Mitch Metropulos approved Logan’s adoption in February. Though he ruled that state law allowed only one of the men to adopt, he uses the same standards as judging a heterosexual couple.
“It’s all about what’s in the best interest of the child. I look for stability, financial resources and a safe home environment,” Metropulos said. “Even though a second parent can’t legally adopt, that person is still part of the home environment and contributing to the stability.”
Though Metropulos and a majority of Wisconsin judges read the statute that way, co-parent adoptions are possible, said Emily Dudak Taylor, an attorney with the Madison-based Law Center for Children and Families.
“It’s most certainly legally performed, but there’s a tougher road to get there,” Dudak Taylor said. “It’s hard, invasive, scary, expensive and you have to be willing to fight. It’s judge by judge, county by county and you need a home study to adopt your own child.”
That was the case for Appleton couple Sara Rabideau and Sam Tassoul.
Tassoul gave birth to the couple’s daughter Graisyn in 2008 and Rabideau carried their 10-month-old son Kazmer last year.
The couple used a quirk in Wisconsin adoption law that allows biological parents to sign over rights temporarily, then “adopt” their own children. Rabideau and Tassoul traveled to La Crosse County Judge Ramona Gonzalez, who is friendly to the legal maneuver.
“I hope more judges around the state see it this way. Of course, if we could just get married this would be a non-issue,” Rabideau said. “I’d like to see marriage equality on the ballot again. All of our surrounding states are adopting it and Wisconsin is going to be last to get on board.”
Rabideau said after living with Tassoul for 10 years, she heard about every question and criticism to the point she doesn’t get embarrassed or offended. When people ask about the lack of a male influence in the home, she jokes about her daughter’s aspirations to be an auto mechanic.
“We have a lot of males in our life that influence her,” Rabideau said. “At my dad’s car dealership, she walks around like she owns the place. Here’s a little girl raised by two moms who wants to be a mechanic. Go figure.”
While Fair Wisconsin and others push for changes to Wisconsin adoption law, conservative groups are resistant to changes.
Julaine Appling, president of the right-wing Madison-based Wisconsin Family Action, is an outspoken critic of the state’s same-sex partnerships and led the charge for the state’s constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and woman.
“I’m adopted myself and adoption in Wisconsin is a great option to abortion, but we shouldn’t give children less than the best, which is providing for them with married moms and dads,” Appling said. “This is about adult desires, which shouldn’t be the trump card of what’s in the best interest of the child.”
When David Mettille hears arguments like Appling’s, he points to the adoption and foster process that provided far more vetting to his family than any traditional family undergoes.
“I’ve gone through a pretty lengthy parenting class and have a judge’s signature that says we’re fit parents,” Mettille said. “And most parents don’t have that scrutiny.”