Utah's Department of Child and Family Services is expected to decide later today on whether a same-sex couple is allowed to keep their foster child, despite a local judge's ruling that the baby be removed from the home.
Shortly after Beckie Peirce, 34, and April Hoagland, 38, were married last fall, they decided to become foster parents. Doing so became possible after last year's Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide, and they began fostering a one-year-old child in August. They were soon preparing to adopt the child with her biological mother's blessing.
But on Tuesday, 7th District Court Juvenile Judge Scott Johansen ordered the foster baby removed from Peirce and Hoagland's home within seven days because, Hoagland told KUTV, he claimed that research shows that children raised by homosexual couples are worse off than those raised by heterosexual couples. When asked to cite the studies supporting his decision, Johansen declined.
"We are shattered," Hoagland said. "It hurts me really badly because I haven't done anything wrong."
Peirce believes the judge's decision was based on his religious convictions. Utah is a heavily Mormon state, and the Mormon Church is vehemently opposed to gay marriage. Last week, the church updated its official policy to say that children raised in a household with gay parents are not allowed to join the faith until they are 18 years old.
The state's Department of Child and Family Services (DCFS) is legally required to follow the court order to remove the child, but in doing so, it might also break the law by unfairly discriminating against a same-sex couple. The department was still reviewing the situation as of Thursday morning and is expected to make a decision later today, according to DCFS spokesperson Ashley Sumner.
"If we feel like [Johansen's] decision is not best for the child, and we have a recourse to appeal or change it, we're going to do that," DCFS Director Brent Platt told the Salt Lake Tribune
DCFS approved the couple, who are already raising Hoagland's two biological children, to be foster parents earlier this year. The couple told KUTV they plan to fight the judge's order and are supported by the biological mother of the baby and the baby's state-appointed attorney.
While Johansen claimed he was citing research that heterosexual parents are better for children, there is considerable scientific research that does not support that position. Many studies have shown that the sexual orientation of same-sex parents has no effect on the well-being of a child.
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton agreed, offering her support of Peirce and Hoagland in a Tweet yesterday:
Notably, the American Psychological Association said in 2004 that "there is no scientific evidence that parenting effectiveness is related to parental sexual orientation." Lesbian and gay parents are just as likely, or perhaps unlikely, as heterosexual parents to "provide supportive and healthy environments for their children," according to the APA.
This position has been widely cited in court cases since then, including in the Supreme Court's decision legalizing gay marriage.