Utah governor 'puzzled' by order to take baby from lesbians

Gov. Gary Herbert told reporters that he is puzzled by Judge Scott Johansen's ruling, which child welfare officials said they are reviewing for a possible challenge. File photo.

Salt Lake City (AP) — A Utah judge who ordered a baby to be taken from her lesbian foster parents and placed with a heterosexual couple for the child's well-being should follow the law and not inject his personal beliefs into the decision, the state's Republican governor said Thursday.

Gov. Gary Herbert told reporters that he is puzzled by Judge Scott Johansen's ruling, which child welfare officials said they are reviewing for a possible challenge.

"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," the governor said.

Herbert added that the judge should not "inject his own personal beliefs and feelings in superseding the law."

April Hoagland and Beckie Peirce say the judge cited research that children do better when they are raised by heterosexual couples. Johansen is precluded by judicial rules from discussing pending cases, Utah courts spokeswoman Nancy Volmer said.

The ruling came during a routine hearing Tuesday for the couple in the central Utah city of Price. 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, said Ashley Sumner, spokeswoman for the Utah Division of Child and Family Services.

Attempts by The Associated Press to reach Hoagland and Peirce have not been successful, but the couple told KUTV that they are distraught. The ruling calls for the baby girl who they have been raising for three months to be taken away within a week.

"We are shattered," Hoagland told the Salt Lake City TV station. "It hurts me really badly because I haven't done anything wrong."

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.

A full transcript of the ruling has not been made public and may not be because court records of cases involving foster children are kept private to protect the kids, Sumner said.

State officials don't keep an exact count but estimate there are a dozen or more foster parents who are married same-sex couples.

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 has generated national buzz, triggering a heated response from The Anti-Defamation League and Human Rights Campaign. The gay rights group called the order shocking, outrageous and unjust.

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton also tweeted about it.

"Being a good parent has nothing to do with sexual orientation — thousands of families prove that," she wrote on her Twitter account, with a link to the KUTV story.

Utah's governor was asked about the case during his monthly news conference taped at KUED.

By Brady McCombs and Michelle L. Price, Associated Press. Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

The Gayly – November 12, 2015 @ 2 p.m.