November 13, 2015 at 5:52 pm EST | by Chris Johnson
Utah judge reverses order to remove child from gay parents
A judge placed on hold his order removing a child from a same-sex household. (Image courtesy KUTV)

A judge placed on hold his order removing a child from a same-sex household. (Image courtesy KUTV)

Following consternation from LGBT advocates and Democratic presidential candidates alike, a Utah judge has for the time being reversed his order to remove a foster child from a lesbian couple’s household because they’re gay.

After the news was reported by the Associated Press and the New York Times, the Utah Department of Human Services confirmed to the Washington Blade Judge Scott Johansen of the Seventh District Juvenile Court had changed his order.

“The ruling now strikes any requirement to remove the foster child from the current placement,” Utah DHS spokesperson Allie Jurkatis said. “DCFS and legal counsel are reviewing the judge’s order and evaluating options for next steps.”

According to the New York Times, it’s not clear the fight is over. A hearing is scheduled for Dec. 4 to determine what’s in the best interest of the child.

As first reported this week by local CBS TV affiliate KUTV, Johansen on Tuesday ordered a nine-month old girl removed within seven days from the home of Rebecca Peirce and April Hoagland, saying he has evidence children raised by same-sex couples don’t fare as well as children raised by straight parents.

“We’ve been told to care for this child like a mother, and I am her mother,” Hoagland says in the KUTV report. “That’s who she knows. And she’s just going to be taken away in seven days to another probably good loving home, but it’s not fair, and it’s not right, and it just hurts me really badly because I haven’t done anything wrong.”

It’s hard to imagine the judge would have any accurate research showing children are worse off with same-sex parents. Major medical and psychological organizations, including the American Psychological Association and the American Medical Association, have concluded there’s no scientific basis for same-sex couples are less capable parents than straight couples, or that their children are less psychologically healthy and well adjusted.

The couple is legally married, want to adopt the baby and had planned to appeal the decision. The biological mother of the child reportedly has said she wants the child to remain with the same-sex couple.

The judge’s decision to amend his order follows a request from Utah Division of Child and Family Services to stay his ruling on the grounds the removal isn’t in the best interest of the child. The state pledged to petition to the Utah Court of Appeals unless Johansen vacated his decision.

After the news the judge had temporarily reversed his order, the Human Rights Campaign announced it had a filed a complaint with the Utah Judicial Conduct Commission. According to the LGBT group, a judicial order removing a child based on the sexual orientation of the couple raising it violates the Utah Code of Judicial Conduct.

“It is unconscionable that any judge would let bias interfere with determining the true best interest of a child and we strongly encourage the commission to take appropriate action to hold this Judge accountable and to affirm that personal bias has no place in judicial decisions in Utah,” HRC Legal Director Sarah Warbelow said.

The initial order by Johansen, who has a history of unorthodox decisions and obtained his law degree from Brigham Young University in 1977, made national headlines.

The campaigns for Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Martin O’Malley took to Twitter to voice opposition to the judge’s decision, saying they would forbid such action in their administrations.

Nothing could be found on Democratic presidential candidate Bernard Sanders’ Twitter accounts on the judge’s order or his reversal. The campaign didn’t respond to the Washington Blade’s request to comment.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), also expressed indignation over the initial ruling, drawing attention to legislation she introduced known as the Every Child Deserves a Family Act. The bill would prohibit anti-LGBT discrimination in adoption.

“This judge’s decision is outrageous, flies in the face of facts and should be overturned,” Gillibrand said. “We should be supporting loving, caring and responsible adults who want to welcome children in need of families into their homes – not turning them away based on their sexual orientation. This type of discrimination should have no place in the judicial or foster care system anywhere in our country.”

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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