Utah judge reverses decision to have baby taken from lesbian foster parents

A Utah judge has reversed his decision to take a baby away from her lesbian foster parents and place her with a heterosexual couple after the ruling led to a national backlash.

SALT LAKE CITY — A Utah judge has reversed his decision to take a baby away from her lesbian foster parents and place her with a heterosexual couple after the ruling led to a national backlash.

Judge Scott Johansen signed an order, which was released Friday, that will allow the 9-month-old baby to stay with April Hoagland and Beckie Peirce, a married couple.

It comes after Johansen said in court Tuesday that the baby would be removed from the couple’s home. Utah officials and the couple filed court challenges demanding the judge rescind the order.

In his original decision, Johansen cited research that shows children do better when raised by heterosexual families. However, the American Psychological Association has said there’s no scientific basis that gay couples are unfit parents based on sexual orientation.

Ashley Sumner, spokeswoman for the Utah Division of Child and Family Services, said the agency is cautiously optimistic and relieved. But Johansen’s decision still leaves open the possibility that he could order the child removed at a Dec. 4 custody hearing, she said.

“We’re moving in the right direction, but it’s not the final answer,” Sumner said.

Jim Hunnicutt, a lawyer for the couple, said they are happy the judge rescinded the order so quickly.

“These two people are excellent, wonderful parents,” he said. “They love the child every much, and they are very optimistic that the child will remain in their care.”

Hunnicutt said he didn’t know what caused the judge to change his mind but that the initial decision violated the Constitution and harmed the baby.

“What I have to assume is that when the law was put right in front of his face, he realized that he had made a mistake, and he wanted to correct it and do the right thing and do what was constitutional,” the attorney said.

Hoagland and Peirce are among 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 estimate there are a dozen or more foster parents who are married same-sex couples.

A full transcript of Johansen’s initial 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 has said.

The move to take the baby away generated widespread criticism, including from national gay rights groups and Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, who said Thursday that Johansen should follow the law and not inject his personal beliefs into the decision.

Groups including the Anti-Defamation League, Human Rights Campaign and the American Civil Liberties Union called the order outrageous and unjust.