This summer, same-sex marriage was legalized across the country, and many of us considered that to be a long-overdue victory for basic civil rights. But one case involving lesbian parents in Utah demonstrates that there will be more battles to fight.
April Hoagman and Beckie Peirce have been raising a 1-year-old baby girl they hope to adopt for three months, and they probably expected that a routine hearing in family court would be pretty uneventful: They had, after all, passed the background checks and home inspections required of them to be qualified to foster children. Besides that, the couple has been raising Peirce’s two children quite capably for years in what appears to be a very happy home. That’s why when Judge Scott Johansen of Price, Utah, ordered the child taken from their home to be placed with a heterosexual couple, the pair was so devastated.
Hoagland told a local news outlet that the decision was “…heartbreaking. We’ve been told to care for this child like a mother would, and I am her mother.”
Judge Johansen cited but did not produce what he called “a myriad” of studies that show that children raised by heterosexual couples do better than children raised by same-sex couples. That presumption is, of course, patently false.
A report released by the American Academy of Pediatrics in 2013 that compiled data from 30 years of studying how children fare when they are raised by same-sex parents showed that gay couples are as loving, capable and well-equipped to be parents — and foster parents — as straight couples are.
Still, that didn’t stop Johansen from ordering the couple to surrender the child within the space of the week. That’s an order the couple and the state’s Division of Child and Family Services hope to fight.
This judge’s actions are alarming as well as heartbreaking for one big reason: It shows that there are still people out there who are willing to push back against the basic civil rights that same-sex couples now finally enjoy. The discrimination leveled against homosexual people in this country is far from a thing of the past, and cases like this indicate that there are people who will do anything they can to keep gay and lesbian couples from claiming the rights afforded to them by law.
Utah has many conditions that couples hoping to foster children must meet, and one of them is that the couple must be married. Hoagland and Peirce are married. It’s clear that this puts a bee in Johansen’s bonnet, because what had so long been a barrier to same-sex couples fostering children in Utah — marriage — is no longer illegal and therefore cannot be used as a convenient front to deny them their rights. In conservative areas of the country, “married” was a palatable code word for “straight” because same-sex couples were prohibited from marrying.
It’s extremely worrying that there are people of power out there who are willing to take children from very loving homes in service to what is quickly becoming an antiquated worldview. It’s as though people who supported DOMA and other measures realized they would not get their way after all and now continue to stamp their feet and do blatantly terrible things just to make one last stand that will land them on the wrong side of history.
While the court documents cannot be released in order to protect the juveniles in the case, everyone who was present that day backs up Hoagland and Peirce’s recounting of the ruling: that the baby’s removal was ordered not because the pair is unfit as parents, but because they are lesbians.
Attorney Mandie Torgerson represents the baby’s biological mother, who reportedly asked the pair to pursue adoption, and says she will appeal the decision, while a spokeswoman for DFCS — Ashley Sumner — is similarly perplexed, saying, “We just want sharing, loving families for these kids. We don’t really care what that looks like.”
Isn’t that the truth? A good parent is a good parent, their race, orientation, age or physical ability notwithstanding. Kids don’t care, so long as they are loved, which is something Hoagland and Peirce have already done. Now there’s a good chance they’ll have to say goodbye to the child they’ve come to accept as their own, all because one bigoted judge doesn’t seem to understand what the “in the best interest of the child” part of his job description means.