Utah to challenge order to take baby from lesbians

Foster parents April Hoagland and Beckie Peirce in Salt Lake City. A judge who ordered that a baby be taken away from the lesbian couple and placed with a heterosexual couple. (Steve Griffin/The Salt Lake Tribune via AP)

Salt Lake City (AP) — Utah state officials are challenging a decision made by a Utah judge to a take a baby away from lesbian foster parents and place her with a heterosexual couple for the child's well-being.

Utah Division of Child and Family Services officials said Thursday in a statement that they will fight the ruling at the appeals court if Judge Scott Johansen doesn't rescind his decision.

The state agency said the judge went against its recommendation that the 9-month old baby should stay with April Hoagland and Beckie Peirce, a married couple in Price, Utah.

In his decision, Johansen mentioned research that shows children do better when raised by heterosexual families, state officials said. However, the American Psychological Association has said there's no scientific basis for believing that gays and lesbians are unfit parents based on sexual orientation.

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. Johansen is precluded by judicial rules from discussing pending cases, Utah courts spokeswoman Nancy Volmer said.

The decision has generated widespread criticism, including from national LGBT groups and Utah Gov. Gary Herbert.

Herbert said Thursday that Johansen should follow the law and not inject his personal beliefs into the decision. The state's Republican governor told reporters that he is puzzled by Judge Scott Johansen's ruling.

"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."

The ruling came during a routine hearing Tuesday for the couple in the central Utah city of Price.

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

Attempts by The Associated Press to reach Hoagland and Peirce have not been successful, but the couple told KUTV (http://bit.ly/1Sjph1o) that they are distraught.

The ruling triggered a heated response from The Anti-Defamation League, Human Rights Campaign and the American Civil Liberties Union. The gay rights groups called the order shocking, outrageous and unjust.

"No child should be denied stability and separated from a loving family because of a judge's baseless beliefs about lesbian and gay parents," said Karen McCreary, executive director of the ACLU in Utah.

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.

This isn't the first time Judge Johansen's actions have raised concerns and landed him in a controversy.

In 1995, he was issued a private reprimand by a judicial council after he slapped a teenager in his chambers after the 16-year-old allegedly became belligerent and insulting. Johansen, who later apologized, was cleared of any criminal wrongdoing after a pair of investigations.

In 2012, a woman filed a complaint against Johansen after he reduced her daughter's sentence after she cut off the girl's ponytail in court. The girl had landed in juvenile court for cutting off the hair of a 3-year-old girl.

Johansen was the Emery County attorney for 13 years before being named a state judge in 1992.

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 13, 2015 @ 7:45 a.m.