A Utah juvenile court judge has ordered a baby taken away from a lesbian couple and placed with a heterosexual couple for the child’s well-being, and child welfare officials say they are trying to determine whether they can challenge that order.
Judge Scott Johansen’s order Tuesday in the central Utah city of Price raised concern at the Utah Division of Child and Family Services, agency spokeswoman Ashley Sumner said Wednesday.
Its attorneys plan to review the decision and determine what options they have to possibly challenge the order.
The ruling came during a routine hearing for April Hoagland and Beckie Peirce. They are part of a group of same-sex married couples who were allowed to become foster parents in Utah after last summer’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling that made gay marriage legal across the country, Sumner said.
State officials don’t keep an exact count but estimate there are a dozen or more foster parents who are same-sex married couples.
Attempts by the Associated Press to reach Hoagland and Peirce on Wednesday were unsuccessful, but the couple told KUTV that they are distraught after the ruling, which calls for the baby girl they have been raising for three months to be taken away within a week.
They said Johansen cited research that children do better when they are raised by heterosexual couples. Hoagland believes the judge imposed his religious beliefs.
“We are shattered,” she told the Salt Lake City TV station. “It hurts me really badly because I haven’t done anything wrong.”
The couple did speak with the Salt Lake City Tribune on Wednesday.
“We love her and she loves us, and we haven’t done anything wrong,” Peirce told the newspaper. “And the law, as I understand it, reads that any legally married couple can foster and adopt.”
Peirce, 34, and Hoagland, 38, have had the 1-year-old girl in their home for three months while the state moves toward terminating her biological mother’s parental rights, they told the Tribune.
“The mother has asked us to adopt,” Hoagland said.
The judge, Johansen, is precluded by judicial rules from discussing pending cases, Utah courts spokeswoman Nancy Volmer said.
A full transcript of his ruling has not been made public and may not be because court records of cases involving foster children are kept private to protect the children, Sumner said.
Sumner said she can’t speak to specifics of the case but confirmed that the couple’s account of the ruling is accurate: The judge’s decision was based on the couple being lesbians. The agency isn’t aware of any other issues with their performance as foster parents.
The agency is responsible for trying to keep children with one family as long as the parents are providing adequate care.
All couples are screened before becoming foster parents.
“We just want sharing, loving families for these kids,” Sumner said. “We don’t really care what that looks like.”
The ruling triggered a heated response from the Human Rights Campaign. The gay rights group called the order shocking, outrageous and unjust.