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Price • A Utah juvenile court judge has amended an order to remove a 9-month-old girl from the Price home of her same-sex foster parents and has instead scheduled a hearing on the matter.
Seventh District Juvenile Judge Scott Johansen had given state child welfare officials until Nov. 17 to remove the child from custody of April Hoagland and Beckie Peirce, saying at a hearing Tuesday that he believed it was "not in the best interest of children to be raised by same-sex couples."
The case has drawn a firestorm of national attention, including from Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, who expressed support for the women via Twitter, saying: "Being a good parent has nothing to do with sexual orientationthousands of families prove that." It also prompted the Human Rights Campaign, the nation's largest gay and transgender rights advocacy group, to file a formal complaint against Johansen with Utah's Judicial Conduct Commission calling for an investigation into what it said was a "clear violation" of rules prohibiting discrimination in judicial decision-making.
"We urge the commission to act expeditiously to investigate Judge Johansen's actions and to impose appropriate sanctions if it is determined that this decision was in fact based on bias," the HRC's letter to the commission states.
Documents released Friday show the judge's original order issued on Tuesday included statements about the problems he believes children suffer when raised by same-sex parents. Those statements were crossed out in the amended order signed Thursday, when the judge also set a Dec. 4 hearing to determine what will be best for the girl.
Until that hearing, the child will remain with Hoagland and Peirce, who became licensed as foster parents in March, the document states.
"I'm very grateful the judge has decided not to take her out of our home," Hoagland said at a news conference outside the Price courthouse Friday afternoon. "I am overwhelmed with joy."
The state Division of Child and Family Services and attorneys for the two women had filed motions Thursday, seeking to block the removal of the child, who has been with Hoagland and Peirce since August.
"Essentially we've bought some time," Utah Division of Child and Family Services spokeswoman Ashley Sumner said Friday. "We'll have to see at the permanency hearing on Dec. 4 what the next steps will be."
Hoagland and Peirce who have been married for a year and are also raising Peirce's two biological children want to adopt the child, for whom they have cared while the state moves through the legal process of terminating the parental rights of the child's biological mother.
Court papers say the child is "happy" in the couple's home and that DCFS and her mother support the planned adoption.
In his original order, Johansen said he didn't believe that would be best for the girl, saying it was his "belief that research has shown children are more emotionally and mentally stable" when raised by heterosexual parents, and that same sex unions have "double" the rate of instability.
The order also says "the emotional problems suffered by children in same sex relationships increase by a factor of four compared to children raised by heterosexual couples."
Johansen declined to identify or provide specific citations for the research despite requests from attorneys, the order notes.
In the amended document, however, Johansen has scratched out most of that language, including the word "belief," which he has replaced with "concern."
State law formerly prohibited gay and lesbian couples from adopting or fostering children, but that changed when the U.S. Supreme Court in June upheld the right of same-sex couples to marry.
Peirce said Friday that she didn't know the source of the remarks in Johansen's rulings and wasn't going to speculate.
"We all make mistakes as humans. We all have our own opinions and sometimes they come out in the wrong setting," she said. "I'm not going to guess as to where it came from, I'm just going to be thankful that he decided to fix it."
Johansen has been a lightning rod in the past. In 1997, he was reprimanded for slapping a 16-year-old boy who became belligerent during a meeting.
And he was criticized in 2012 for ordering a woman to cut off her 13-year-old daughter's ponytail as punishment for the teen cutting hair off a 3-year-old.
The judge, a former Emery County attorney, was appointed to the bench in 1992 by then-Gov. Norm Bangerter.
A 1977 graduate of the J. Reuben Clark College of Law at Brigham Young University, he is a former chairman of the state Board of Juvenile Court Judges and of the Judicial Council's Policy and Planning Committee.