This week, a Utah judge ordered a couple, April Hoagland and Rebecca Peirce, to give up a baby girl they had welcomed into their home three months earlier as foster parents. The reason he gave for doing so is that the couple – married and approved this year to be foster parents – are lesbians. In juvenile court judge Scott Johansen’s eyes, that justifies his decision to take a baby who has been thriving in the care of April and Rebecca out of a stable, nurturing and loving home.

There are so many reasons to feel outraged by Judge Johansen’s decision. For one, last summer, the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage. Following that decision, Utah’s Department of Child and Family Services licensed the couple as foster parents earlier this year. As Utah’s own Republican Governor Gary Herbert said, “[The judge] may not like the law, but he should follow the law. … We don’t want to have activism on the bench in any way, shape or form.”

Second, Judge Johansen appears to be citing – at best – questionable research in making his case. As April and Rebecca explained in an interview, “through his research he had found out that kids in homosexual homes don’t do as well as they do in heterosexual homes.” Judge Johansen doesn’t exactly provide citations for the research he’s referencing, but my guess is that he hasn’t seen the significant and consistent body of research reviewed by the American Psychological Association (APA) in concluding that “there is no scientific evidence that parenting effectiveness is related to parent sexual orientation.”  In fact, the factors that do affect the adjustment of children and adolescents are the same regardless of parental sexual orientation.

According to the APA, countless studies over the three decades have led to a consensus on what factors contribute to healthy adjustment in children and adolescents. The three most important are: (1) the qualities of parent-child relationships; (2) the qualities of relationships among significant adults in child or adolescent lives (e.g., relationships between parents); and (3) the economic and other resources available to the child.

For an exhaustive list of peer-reviewed articles published in reputable academic journals that support these arguments, take a look at the APA’s amicus brief in the in the Gill vs. OPM case here.The sad reality is that there is questionable research out there, propagated by conservative anti-gay “think tanks” like Family Research Council to suggest otherwise. And in this case, Judge Johansen chose to selectively refer to these opinion pieces to serve his agenda.

Third, and most egregious is that Judge Johansen clearly ignored what was in the best interest of the child in order to satisfy a personal conviction. April and Rebecca clearly met the child and family services agency’s rigorous vetting process, and were in fact moving toward adopting the child. In their words, the little girl “didn’t smile or respond” when first placed in their care, but in a few short months, was an active, healthy and communicative little child. As the foster parents explained, “DCFS wants us to have the child, the guardian ad litem [a court-appointed representative for the child] 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.”

As of now, just seven states explicitly bar discrimination against gay parents in foster care. Sadly several more have recently enacted protections that allow child-placement agencies to refuse placements just based on religious grounds. And there are many outstanding questions about whether rights of parentage conferred on heterosexual couples will also be given to same-sex couples. In Utah, which earlier this year adopted an anti-discrimination law, state laws governing foster care still give preference to heterosexual married couples. The anti-discrimination law passed in the state does not bar discrimination in public accommodations — which according to experts is the category into which foster care and adoption would most likely fit.

It seems clear that more states need to explicitly bar discrimination against same-sex parents in foster care, just to protect children and foster parents from facing the wrath of bigoted judges who put their own personal beliefs above the best interest of children. And we have an opportunity to protect children and parents from such discrimination. The Every Child Deserves a Family Act (S.1382), if passed, would prohibit entities that receive federal funds from discriminating against any prospective or adoptive parent based on their sexual orientation, gender identity, or marital status. It would create more opportunities for youth in foster care and those waiting to be adopted to find loving homes. You can find our letter of support for the bill here.

11/13 Update: The judge has reversed his decision for the time being, and a hearing is scheduled for 12/4 to determine what is in the best interests of the child. 

He may not like the law, but he should follow it! Judge takes baby from loving foster home b/c they are lesbians:
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