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Hetero-Sex Obsessed Judge Quits After Removing Child from Lesbian Moms

Judge Scott Johansen retired after inciting national criticism for a ruling to remove a child from their gay foster parents. We spoke with experts to understand how such bigoted beliefs can invade the legal system.

by Diana Tourjée
Jan 5 2016, 9:00pm

Photo by Danil Nevsky via Stocksy

Judge Scott Johansen, an old man who is presumably into having sex with women, recently retired after facing national criticism for ruling on November 10, 2015 that a child should be removed from her lesbian foster parents' home and placed in a heterosexual household.

According to FOX 13 Salt Lake City, the original adoptive parents were vetted and approved as foster parents in the state of Utah. Yet Johansen ruled against them, citing his belief that children fare better when their parents are heterosexual. "The court orders the Division to place the child with a duly married, heterosexual foster-adoptive couple within one week," he wrote. KUTV reports that Judge Johansen revoked his homophobic ruling and recused himself from the case before retiring.

In addition to weirdly correlating a parent's sexual orientation with effective child rearing, Judge Johansen has attracted criticism in the past for slapping a 16 year old and for offering to reduce a young girl's sentence if her mother cut off her ponytail. The mother wavered in the courtroom, questioning whether the scissors she was given could cut the thick mane. "Take a little bit at a time," Judge Johansen urged.

Whether he's shearing, slapping, or transplanting kids into homes chock-full of wholesome straight sex, Judge Johansen represents a crucial intermediary between the American legal system and society. Lori Ross is a professor at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto. In 2008, she co-authored an article titled "Lesbian and queer mothers navigating the adoption system: The impacts on mental health." In an interview with Broadly, Ross explained that there's a long history behind Johansen's initial ruling to remove the child from the care of her lesbian foster parents. As depicted in the recent hit film Carol, lesbian mothers who have biological children from past relationships with men have historically had their sexuality levied against them in court.

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"Progressive child welfare systems recognize that LGBT people can make excellent foster or adoptive parents, particularly because we understand how to deal with stigma," Ross said, adding that LGBT parents might be specially qualified for the job of adopting kids because stigma is something adopted children often face as well.

The way that the state interacts with queer people has an impact on their well being and mental health, Ross explained. "For LGBT Parents, the history of legal surveillance can create a lot of anxiety and worry," she noted. According to Ross, legal surveillance happens "both through the process of trying to adopt or foster and after kids are placed in their care." These unnecessary and discriminatory stresses are compounded by the typical problems all parents deal with. Despite this, LGBT parents persevere. "Most LGBT people have lots of experience dealing with the impact of discrimination associated with their sexual orientation or gender identity, and so they manage just fine."

Brian Powell is the former Vice President of the American Sociological Association and the author of the 2010 book Counted Out: Same-Sex Relations and Americans' Definitions of Family. "The case in Utah is really interesting because 10 years ago, this case would not be in the press," he said in a phone interview. "This was what was happening throughout the courts [at that time]. It was in the law and in how judges were interpreting it. The reason the case in Utah got so much attention is that it's so counter to where most of the United States is today." Powell added that fifteen or twenty years ago, a same-sex couple would not have been able to adopt in many states. "Now there's only one state that expressly prohibits same sex couples from adopting. That's the state of Mississippi, and that state is being challenged on that law," he said.

There's remarkable consistency in the fact that there's not much of a difference in the outcomes for children of same sex couples versus father mother households.

Legalizing adoption for LGBT parents can't prevent judges like Judge Johansen from enforcing their own personal biases, but doing so does remove the legal justification behind those biases. Powell says that, in previous years, one of the crucial points against potential LGBT parents was the fact that they weren't married. "That's gone now. Same sex couples may choose not to get married, but the legal restriction on same sex couples to marriage is gone," he said. "That rationale to preclude adoption is gone." It's a sign that the world is changing. The fact that Judge Johansen's homophobic ruling raised such scrutiny signifies a cultural upheaval.

Powell explained that there's another insidious idea that has negatively affected LGBT parenthood: The idea that children raised by straight people develop better than those raised by same-sex couples was once prevalent. Judge Johansen based his ruling in part on "research" he claimed to have been done into the superiority of heterosexual parenting. "That 'evidence' has been so invalidated among social scientists who study this topic," noted Powell. "There's remarkable consistency in the fact that there's not much of a difference in the outcomes for children of same sex couples versus father mother households." He added that there are still people who cling to this antiquated logic even though it's been thoroughly debunked—people like Judge Johansen who are deluded by their own homophobia.

Ross said that the issue is deep and needs to be uprooted in a comprehensive way. "In order to eradicate these biases from the legal and other systems, we need to eradicate them from our cultural values and norms as well," she explained, adding that the systems we put in place to organize society and the values that we uphold socially are mutually reinforcing, "What we believe affects how we structure our systems, and the way in which our systems function affects what we believe. We really need to tackle both problems at once."