Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Foster Child Case: How Gay Rights Are Playing out in Conservative Utah

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Foster Child Case: How Gay Rights Are Playing out in Conservative Utah

Article excerpt

The controversy over whether a legally married lesbian couple in Utah must give up their foster child comes amid a number of fights over the boundaries between gay rights and religious liberty after the US Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage.

On Friday, Utah Judge Scott Johansen stayed an order he had made earlier in the week. In the earlier ruling, the judge said that a baby girl whom April Hoagland and Beckie Peirce hoped to adopt would be better off with heterosexual parents. Gov. Gary Herbert, a Republican, had said he was "puzzled" by what he called "activism" from the bench.

In the change Friday, the judge scheduled a Dec. 4 custody hearing.

How gay rights play out in heavily Mormon Utah has already drawn attention - some of it positive. Earlier this year, Utah legislators carved out a compromise antidiscrimination law, which offers protections to both LGBT people and religious individuals opposed to same-sex marriage.

The case with the lesbian couple and their foster child involves issues that are not covered by the so-called Utah compromise. But it points to ongoing challenges in finding a way forward that's acceptable to all parties.

These kinds of "problems are not going to go away with marriage equality," says Abbie Goldberg, a psychology professor at Clark University in Worcester, Mass., and an expert on lesbian adoption rights. "There are still legislators, judges, a lot of people not willing to give equal rights without a fight, and we are seeing that now on the ground."

The issue in the foster child case, according to confirmed statements from the sealed family courtroom, was that the judge, in his decision Tuesday, cited "myriad" studies that suggest adopted children fare better in households with heterosexual parents. Though plenty of research has rebutted such findings, Judge Johansen was far from alone in holding those beliefs. The Michigan Legislature, for example, in June passed a bill that allows religious adoption agencies, many of which receive public funds, to refuse serving same- sex couples if an adoption conflicts with the organization's religious beliefs.

Whether religion was part of Johansen's decision Tuesday is unclear, though he graduated from a Mormon university.

The two women in the case are already raising Ms. Peirce's two biological children, and the parents were cleared for adoption after an investigation of their home by the state. The biological mother of the foster child gave her approval for Peirce and Ms. Hoagland to adopt the baby.

Johansen ruled on the case as a schism has been deepening among Mormons about whether to recognize gay people - or cast them out as apostates and refuse to baptize their underage children.

Last week it came to light that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which is based in Utah, has adopted the latter approach. …

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