Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Utah judge rules to take baby away from lesbian foster parents

A Utah court judge, Scott Johansen, ruled to take away a baby from from lesbian foster parents and instead be placed with a heterosexual couple, claiming it was for the child's wellbeing.

The ruling involved April Hoagland and Beckie Peirce, who were looking after a baby girl for three months. The couple reported that they were hurt and distraught from the result of the ruling. The couple also mentioned that Johansen cited research stating that children "do better" when raised by heterosexual couples. However, Johansen did not provide any specific studies of that research in court.  Hoagland believes that the judge imposed his religious beliefs and that was a factor in his ruling. "We are shattered," she said. "It hurts me really badly because I haven't done anything wrong." Hoagland also states that the mother allowed them to adopt and had asked them so do, so the ruling was unfair. Peirce also added that "We have a lot of support." "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."

A full transcript of Judge Johansen's ruling is unavailable because court cases involving foster children are kept private to protect the children.

The attorneys hired to represent the child are from the Utah Divisions of Child and Family Services (DCFS) and the Guardian Ad Litem Office. They plan to review the decision and possibly challenge it, stating that Utah law does not prohibit same-sex couples from becoming foster parents.

This ruling triggered controversy in response. Human Rights Watch stated:
"Removing a child from a loving home simply because the parents are LGBT is outrageous, shocking, and unjust. It also flies in the face of overwhelming evidence that children being raised by same-sex parents are just as healthy and well-adjusted as those with different-sex parents. At a time when so many children in foster care need loving homes, it is sickening to think that a child would be taken from caring parents who planned to adopt."

What do you think about the judge's decision? Does he have the power as a judge to make this order? If he was motivated by his religious beliefs, then is that an acceptable factor when making decisions? Why or why not? Should the couple file a lawsuit?

Salt Lake Tribune, Human Rights Campaign, LA Times, Photo


Andy Barnes said...

I personally disagree with the judge’s decision. I believe that it is ridiculous that the judge has the authority to take away the child only on the grounds of sexual preference of the foster parents. The recent Supreme Court case Obergefell v. Hodges, as most people know guaranteed same-sex couples the right to marry. Once same-sex couples were given the right to marry, they are also entitled to the same rights a heterosexual couple is entitled to. According to Article 16 of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, “Men and women of full age, without limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family… The Family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State”. ( While the Judicial Branch of the US government isn’t bound by the Constitution to follow anything the UN says, we generally do. Does the Utah court judge really have the authority to go directly against the Universal Declaration of Human Rights just because he doesn’t think same-sex couples should be entitled to the same rights as heterosexual couples? I don't believe he does.

Rachael Howard said...

Considering we don't know all of the facts of the case I can't officially decide if the judges opinion was just or unjust. For example it may appear that the judge gave the child to heterosexual parents because he hates the LGBT community however he may have awarded the child to the heterosexual parents because he felt that the heterosexual parents are more financially stable. As a judge he does have the power to make that decision, however if his decision was made strictly based on religious factors than it is unjust. I mean there is a reason why there is a separation between church and state, in my opinion the religion factor is impossible to deal with when trying to make fair decisions or sort out arguments because it is something people are just so passionate about and willing to die for (ex the conflict between Jews, Christians, and Muslim over the holy lands). I would file a lawsuit or at the very least an appeal if I was the couple since there is no law forbidding LGBT couples from raising children.

Horace He said...

From the way this post is portrayed, I really don't see any justification for what this judge did. The research saying that children in same sex marriages do worse is tenuous at best, and definitely should not supercede the bond that these parents have with their child.

And upon doing my own research into case, there is no way this decision is justifiable. It's practically Kim Davis all over again. (Kim Davis was the county clerk who refused to issue marriage licenses to same sex couples). This seems like pretty clear discrimination to me, and I feel pretty strongly that the judge's religious beliefs are affecting him. I would definitely sue for discrimination, and I wouldn't be surprised if some sort of punishment is given to this judge in the future.

Some more interesting facts into this case:
The judge graduated from BYU Law, a Mormon Law School, back in 1977. Considering that the Mormon Church is pretty strongly against same sex couples, this is a clear source of bias.

Adding onto that, he appears to have received lower than average scores on procedural fairness, and separation of personal beliefs from his legal rulings.

Combine this all together, from his lack of ability to separate personal beliefs from legal rulings, to his strong affiliation with the Mormon Church (anti same sex marriage), to his dubious evidence towards his ruling, and it paints a clear picture.

Scott Johansen ruled to separate the parents and the child for mostly religious reasons, not legal.

Cami Nemschoff said...

From the information provided, it seems that the decision was completely unjust. However, if there is evidence that the parents were in any way maltreating the child, then maybe the decision was based off of that, rather than because of their sexuality.

Similar to what Horace said, given Kim Davis' reputation it seems clear that these decisions are based off of more than the law, perhaps religious beliefs. The parents should definitely appeal this decision because as the case is presented it seems that the decision was completely discriminatory.

Given the absurdity of the action, it appears that this decision was not a legal one, but a religious one. Judge Johansen ruled that the parents should not be allowed to have the child as a punishment, not as a fair legal decision. As a judge, it is his job to rule based on the Constitution and the law, not his own personal beliefs. If this decision is overturned, I hope that he is punished in some way.

Adjon Tahiraj said...

From the information given in this post it definitely seems like the judge did not make the correct decision, in my eyes anyway. I think he does have the power to do this but that does not mean he should do with without righteous basis. Also I think that religion can be both a good and bad thing when making decision. There are times when religious beliefs concede with what is the right thing to do, and in may cases like this its for the best of everyone to use that religious thinking when making the decision. But there are also other cases like the one above concerning homosexuality, and there are definitely some controversial things said about homosexuality in all the different religions therefore in cases like this your religion should not come into factor when deciding the case.

As for this couple, with the right team of lawyers I definitely believe, from he information given, that they can and will most likely win this case if they take it to a higher court.

Horace He said...

Just realized that I should probably cite my sources:

Judge graduated from BYU Law (a Mormon School)

He has received lower than average scores for separation of personal beliefs from court rulings:,%20Scott.pdf

Casey Vanderlip said...

I disagree with the judges decision. Children should not be removed from their parents without a reason that endangers the child. A judge should not be able to bring his own self beliefs into a case and make a decision based on what he wants. The judges religion should have no say on the outcome of a case because it is his belief, but not the law of the land. The state of Utah does not have a law again same sex couples caring for a kid. Their is not proof the kid is under any risk that could endanger his future. If their were reports of abuse or malnutrition the judge may have had a more justified decision. However, with the evidence I have seen the judge acted against the law and brought his personal beliefs into rulings a case which is against the law.

Juliana Stahr said...

I, of course, disagree with the judge's unjust decision to remove a foster child from a lesbian couple. After researching the judge Scott Johansen, I discovered that he received a law degree from the J. Reuben Clark College of Law at Brigham Young University (a Mormon University) in 1977 and practiced with the Price law firm of Frandsen, Keller & Jensen from 1977 to 1979. Approximately 99 percent of Brigham Young University's 30,000 students are members of the LDS Church, and one-third of its American students come from within the state of Utah. With this, we might be able to make a correlation between his religious beliefs and his decision to not support a foster child living with a lesbian couple. Unfortunately, the judge has the power to make this decision but, the couple can of course file a lawsuit and try again to win back their foster child in another court. Unfortunately, this process can be lengthy and quite expensive. I feel for the couple because the judge is simply hurting both the child and the couple by taking the child away from a couple. This can be a traumatic experience for the child who might be struggling to find a stable home. I also believe that the judge's religious beliefs should not be a factor when making decisions. The state law should be the only factor coming into play.


Jonathan Liu said...

First of all, upon reading the previous comments (especially the research about the judge's college), I'm convinced that there is most likely bias, and that unless the judge has some other strong argument, this was a poor decision on his part and seems unjust.
However, just to provide a contrasting (albeit probably weak) position, I'm going to defend the judge's decision. Just in case, I'd also like to remind any readers that this is obviously a very varying case as every set of parents is different so there can't really be a sweeping argument made for either side, so what I'm presenting below is just a set of hypothetical points that may or may not occur.

It's indisputable that homosexual parents and heterosexual parents are not capable of creating the same environment. Regardless of how you'd like to spin it, there's no possible way that two mothers (or two fathers) can give children the same childhood as heterosexual parents can. Behavioral patterns,"motherly instincts," and general reaction to certain events can be different between different genders, so the way the child is raised will be more different. Sure, homosexual parents can be just as loving and caring and responsible as heterosexual parents, but it's not hard to see why the judge sees it as a potential problem.

Furthermore, children growing up in a family with two parents of the same gender can go through identity crises and trouble fitting in because of their untypical situation and the inability of not only them but their peers to fully comprehend it. For example, having two fathers may create confusion on both father's day and mother's day, and children may struggle to understand what it's like to have a mother at all. Children may also be teased or bullied by other children whose parents have fed them homophobic viewpoints or even children who simply pick on those who are different. As a general rule, there's a positive correlation between similarity and ability to fit in, so having a different family structure could provide a social barrier.

Another threat to children raised by homosexual parents is ignorant adults. Homophobic adults exist. The bay area is a very liberal environment. We accept this kind of thing. Utah probably doesn't so much. Of course, that's not to say that nobody in Utah does, it's just that people are more likely less accepting than they are here. And when authority figures (adults) don't accept children for something they literally have zero control over, it can be demoralizing.

In conclusion, I'm arguing that there are definitely reasons why children might be better off in heterosexual households. I think that if his decision was purely religiously motivated then that's absolutely unacceptable, and that if they have evidence of that they should probably file a lawsuit or appeal the decision in some way, but I'm just trying to show that there could be reasons why children would be better off with heterosexual parents, especially in a less accepting community. From a quick scan it doesn't seem that Utah is super intolerant although there definitely are people there completely against the idea.

I don't know. I don't disagree with the rest of the comments, I just feel that the judge's side was not considered well enough before the opinions were formed.

Anonymous said...

Based on the information that I am given, I am completely opposed to the reasoning that this judge took the child away from the couple. Unless, there was something else (such as the child was not being properly taken care of) then I stand by that opinion.

From the given information the judge based his decision purely on his religious beliefs. Which is totally unacceptable and unprofessional, when you have the amount of power that a judge has. The strange thing is within the supreme court lesson over the last few weeks, we learned that religious beliefs have the least amount of effect on a judges' decision. Now whether that only applies to the supreme court is unknown at this time. Yet that still no way justifies the judge to base his ruling off of his beliefs. Professionally and constitutionally he must base his decision off of the example that the couple has shown so far, on whether or not they are eligible to be the care givers of the child.

Henceforth, unless there is undeniable proof that the child is in danger by being placed in the environment of the lesbian couple, I think that the judges' ruling is completely unfair and unconstitutional and downright unprofessional.