A same-sex couple in Utah has been ordered by a family court judge to give up their foster daughter for placement in another home. The decision was reportedly made solely based on the couple's sexual orientation.
Beckie Peirce, 34, and her wife April Hoagland, 38, of Carbon County, Utah, have been fostering the 1-year-old girl in their home for three months while the state terminated the parental rights of her biological mother, The Salt Lake Tribune reports.
Although the pair are reportedly loving parents to the girl, on Nov. 10, 7th District Juvenile Court Judge Scott Johansen ordered the child to be removed from their home and placed with a heterosexual family instead.
Johansen, who has ordered the Department of Child and Family Services to move the child within seven days of his decision, said he believed she would be better off in a heterosexual household. The judge claimed that his opinion is supported by research, although he did not cite any specific studies in court.
The couple, who married in October 2014 and received their foster care license earlier this year, said they were stunned by the decision.
"We love her and she loves us, and we haven't done anything wrong," Peirce told The Salt Lake City Tribune.
The couple said they have hired an attorney and are fighting the judge's order.
Utah state law allows any legally married, licensed couple to foster children in their home and does not specifically prohibit same-sex couples from being foster parents, although the state did attempt to bar same-sex adoptions in 2014.
Peirce and Hoagland are currently also raising Peirce's biological children, ages 12 and 14, and they were hoping to make the girl the newest addition to their family.
"The [baby's biological] mother has asked us to adopt," Peirce added.
Attorneys for the Utah Division of Child and Family Services, the Guardian Ad Litem Office, and the child's biological mother were all present at the court hearing in which Johansen handed down the order, and all have questioned the need to remove the child.
"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."
Former U.S. Secretary of State and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has tweeted in support of the couple, KUTV reported.
"Being a good parent has nothing to do with sexual orientation — thousands of families prove that," Clinton wrote in the Nov. 11 Twitter post.
Peirce and Hoagland said that they believed Johansen made the decision based on personal bias and did not examine their record as foster parents or consider the best interest of the child.
"He's never been in our home, never spent time with the child in our home or our other children so he doesn't know anything about this," Peirce told KUTV.
This is not the first time Johansen has made a controversial decision in court, according to The Salt Lake City Tribune. In 2014, he offered to reduce a 13-year-old girl's community service sentence by 150 hours if she allowed her mother to cut her ponytail off in court.
The teen was reportedly sentenced for an incident in which she cut the hair of a 3-year-old girl in a restaurant.
He was also reprimanded after reportedly slapping a 16-year-old boy who had become belligerent in a court meeting in 1995. In regards to the incident, the Utah Judicial Conduct Commission stated that Johansen had demeaned "the judicial office."