Utah state officials have announced they will fight a judge’s order that a baby girl be taken away from her married lesbian foster parents and placed with a heterosexual couple.
Utah’s Division of Child and Family Services said on Thursday that it would go to an appeals court if state juvenile Judge Scott Johansen did not rescind his decision.
The state agency said the judge went against its recommendation that the baby should stay with April Hoagland and Beckie Peirce, a married couple in Price, Utah.
In his decision Johansen claimed research had shown children did better when raised by heterosexual families.
Utah’s Republican governor, Gary Herbert, said on Thursday that the judge should apply the law rather than his personal beliefs. Herbert said he was puzzled by the ruling , which shocked rights groups and prompted a tweet from the Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton that being a good parent “has nothing to do with sexual orientation – thousands of families prove that”.
Herbert said: “He may not like the law, but he should follow the law. We don’t want to have activism on the bench in any way, shape or form.”
Herbert added that the judge should not “inject his own personal beliefs and feelings in superseding the law”.
The judge’s order calls for the baby girl the couple has been raising for three months to be taken away within a week.
April Hoagland and Beckie Peirce said the judge claimed that research showed children did better when raised by heterosexual couples. A Utah courts spokeswoman, Nancy Volmer, said judicial rules mean Johansen could not discuss the case.
Hoagland said: “We’ve been told to care for this child like a mother would, and I am her mother, I mean that’s who she knows.
“And she’s just going to be taken away in seven days, to another probably good, loving home, but it’s just, it’s not fair, and it’s not right and it just hurts me really badly.”
The ruling came during a routine hearing for Hoagland and Peirce. They are part of a group of same-sex married couples who were allowed to become foster parents in Utah after the recent US supreme court ruling that made gay marriage legal across the country, said a spokeswoman for the state’s family services agency, Ashley Sumner.
“We are shattered,” Hoagland told the Salt Lake City television station KUTV. “It hurts me really badly because I haven’t done anything wrong.”
Peirce added: “He’s never been in our home, never spent time with the child in our home or our other children so he doesn’t know anything about this.”
A full transcript of the ruling has not been made public, and may not be because court records of cases involving foster children were kept private to protect the children, Sumner said.
Sumner said she could not 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 was not aware of any issues with their parenting, she said.
Hoagland and Peirce had passed background checks, interviews and home inspections.
The couple said they had planned to adopt the infant with her birth mother’s blessing. Their family already includes Peirce’s biological children, aged 12 and 14.
Peirce told the Salt Lake City Tribune that the childcare agency and a court-appointed representative for the child also supported the couple, “so the only thing standing in the way is the judge”.
The judge’s ruling prompted a heated response from the Human Rights Campaign, which called it “outrageous, shocking and unjust”.
Johansen has drawn the ire in Utah for past rulings that were criticized as arbitrary. He once sent a teenager to juvenile detention over a poor report card , and in 2012 he reduced a 13-year-old girl’s community service hours only after she had her ponytail chopped off in court – a punishment for the teenager’s part in cutting a three-year-old’s hair.
The Associated Press contributed to this report
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