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A married Carbon County couple says they plan to fight a judge's order that would force them to give up their infant foster daughter simply because they are lesbians.
"We love her and she loves us, and we haven't done anything wrong," Beckie Peirce said Wednesday. "And the law, as I understand it, reads that any legally married couple can foster and adopt."
Peirce, 34, and her wife, 38-year-old April Hoagland, have had the 9-month-old girl in their home for three months while the state moves toward terminating her biological mother's parental rights.
"The mother has asked us to adopt," Hoagland said.
So the pair who married in October 2014 and were licensed as foster parents earlier this year were caught off guard Tuesday when 7th District Court Juvenile Judge Scott Johansen ordered the child removed from their care.
"He said he has research to back that children do better in heterosexual homes," Hoagland said.
Johansen did not provide specifics of that research in court despite questions from attorneys for the Utah Division of Child and Family Services and the Guardian Ad Litem Office assigned to represent the child, Hoagland and Peirce said.
A copy of the order was not publicly available Wednesday, but a court spokeswoman confirmed its contents.
The couple, who are also raising Peirce's 12- and 14-year-old biological children, hired an attorney Wednesday and will fight to keep the girl, who they say has fit seamlessly into their family.
"We have a lot of support," Peirce said. "DCFS wants us to have the child, the Guardian Ad Litem wants us to have the child, the mother wants us to have the child, so the only thing standing in the way is the judge."
Johansen's order gives DCFS seven days to find the child a new home.
Utah law does not prohibit legally married couples from serving as foster parents and no other state judge has expressed concerns about placing foster kids with same-sex parents, DCFS director Brent Platt said.
DCFS attorneys have not seen the order, but they will review it, Platt said, in part to determine whether there are grounds for an appeal.
"If we feel like [Johansen's] decision is not best for the child," he said, "and we have a recourse to appeal or change it, we're going to do that."
Meanwhile, DCFS is looking for an alternate home for the infant, so as not to run afoul of Johansen's order, he said.
This is not the first time Johansen has been in the news for making controversial rulings.
In 1997, he was reprimanded by the Utah Judicial Conduct Commission for "demeaning the judicial office" after slapping a 16-year-old boy who became belligerent during a 1995 meeting at the Price courthouse.
Johansen was also criticized in 2012 for ordering a woman to lop off her 13-year-old daughter's ponytail as punishment for the teen cutting the hair off a 3-year-old girl at a restaurant. The judge offered to shave off 150 hours of community service from the sentence if she cut her daughter's hair in court.
Troy Williams, of Equality Utah, called Johansen's decision "outrageous and unconstitutional" and said it unnecessarily harms the couple and the child.
"There is no credible evidence that lesbian parents are unfit," Williams said. "It is unacceptable to target a couple who want to provide a loving home for a child in need."