PRICE, Utah — A lesbian couple in Utah is fighting to get their 1-year-old foster child back after a judge decided the girl should be removed and placed with a heterosexual couple.
April Hoagland and Beckie Pierce are challenging 7th District Juvenile Court Judge Scott Johansen’s decision to have the foster child removed within seven days, claiming the judge said research he’d done showed the girl would do better in a heterosexual household. The decision has brought condemnation from LGBT rights groups.
Utah state leaders are now reviewing the case for the legally married couple. They were approved to be foster parents earlier this year, according to KSTU.
On Tuesday, Juvenile Judge Scott Johansen ordered the 1-year-old girl, who had been with the couple for three months, to be taken back. The judge said the child should be with a heterosexual couple because it is better for her “well-being,” according to his research.
However, Hoagland and Pierce said they don’t agree and feel the judge is imposing his religious beliefs on them.
The foster child’s state-appointed attorney and biological mother both support the child staying with the foster mothers.
Brent Platt, Director of the state’s Division of Child and Family Services, told KUTV he had not seen the judge’s order but will ask his caseworkers to comply. However, he will first make sure his workers are not breaking the law by removing the child.
The mothers said they will search for any attorney who will help them fight for their foster child.
Utah Governor Gary Herbert said he believes the judge should “follow the law.”
“I’m a little puzzled by the action down there personally,” Herbert told reporters at his monthly news conference on KUED.
The governor said Utah’s Division of Child and Family Services top priority is to protect the safety and welfare of the child, putting them in a home that has been vetted.
“I expect the court and the judge to follow the law. 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. Laws, sometimes people don’t like, but the judge should not interject his own personal beliefs and feelings and supersede the law,” Herbert said.
The Utah Attorney General’s Office, which represents DCFS in court, told KSTU it was looking into it.
“Our office currently is reviewing the court’s order and consulting our client,” said Camille Anderson, a spokeswoman for Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes.
After Utah’s same-sex marriage ban was struck down by the courts in 2013, Governor Herbert ordered state agencies not to recognize same-sex marriages or provide government benefits, including access to adoption or foster care for LGBT couples. That prompted lawsuits against the governor and the state that ended with a federal judge ordering the state to recognize the marriages and provide benefits.
Judge Johansen has faced criticism and even a reprimand for past rulings and conduct. In 2012, he ordered a mother to cut her daughter’s hair to reduce a sentence. In 1997, he was reprimanded for slapping a teen.