PRICE, Utah » A Utah lesbian couple said Friday they are relieved after finding out they will be able to keep a baby girl they have been raising as foster parents.
The married couple spoke Friday, hours after a judge reversed his ruling to take the 9-month-old child and place her with a heterosexual couple for her well-being.
"We’re just happy we don’t have to say goodbye to her on Tuesday," April Hoagland told The Associated Press. "That’s a big relief."
Hoagland and Beckie Peirce later spoke at a news conference in their hometown of Price, Utah, outside the courthouse where the judge made the initial ruling on Tuesday. Peirce wore a T-shirt with a quote from pioneering gay leader Harvey Milk that said, "Rights are won only by those who make their voices heard."
They said they are grateful for the nationwide support their case received after Judge Scott Johansen ordered the baby removed.
National LGBT groups called the decision outrageous, and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton brought attention to the case by Tweeting about it.
State officials and an attorney for the women filed court documents demanding the judge rescind his decision. The judge reversed course, but he could still order the child removed at a Dec. 4 custody hearing.
"We all mistakes as humans. We all have our own opinions. Sometimes they come out in the wrong setting," said Peirce, a paramedic. "I’m not going to guess as to where it came from. I’m just going to be thankful that he decided to fix it."
They said they were shocked when Johansen made his initial ruling in court Tuesday, mentioning research that said children raised by heterosexual families do better and that "same-sex marriages have double the rate of instability as heterosexual marriages."
They said there were audible gasps in the courtroom, and state lawyers countered with evidence to the contrary.
The American Psychological Association has said there’s no scientific basis that gay couples are unfit parents based on sexual orientation.
"Obviously, we can prove him wrong because we have two great children at home," Peirce said.
That language was crossed out in Johansen’s new order. It now says the court merely cited concerns that research has shown children are more emotionally and mentally stable when raised by a mother and father in the same home.
Hoagland, a stay-at-home mother, and Peirce are among a group of same-sex married couples who were allowed to become foster parents in Utah after last summer’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling that made gay marriage legal across the country.
The couple is also raising Peirce’s biological children, girls ages 12 and 13. They were worried about what would happen to their girls at school in the small central Utah city with about 8,400 people. Instead, the girls discovered widespread support from their classmates, Hoagland and Peirce said.
They said they want to adopt the 9-month old baby, who wasn’t with them Friday.
Ashley Sumner, spokeswoman for the Utah Division of Child and Family Services, said the agency is cautiously optimistic and relieved. But Johansen’s decision still leaves open the possibility that he could order the child removed at a Dec. 4 custody hearing, she said.
"We’re moving in the right direction, but it’s not the final answer," Sumner said.
Jim Hunnicutt, a lawyer for the couple, said he didn’t know what caused the judge to change his mind. But Hunnicutt called the initial decision a constitutional violation and harmful to the baby.
"What I have to assume is that when the law was put right in front of his face, he realized that he had made a mistake, and he wanted to correct it and do the right thing and do what was constitutional," he said.
A full transcript of Johansen’s initial ruling has not been made public and may not be because court records of cases involving foster children are kept private to protect the kids. Johansen is precluded by judicial rules from discussing pending cases, Utah courts spokeswoman Nancy Volmer has said.
The move to take the baby away also drew a rebuke from Utah Gov. Gary Herbert. The Republican said Thursday that Johansen should follow the law and not inject his personal beliefs into the decision.
The Human Rights Campaign has lodged a formal complaint against the judge to state judicial officials, alleging that Johansen discriminated against the couple based on sexual orientation. The group said taking the baby from a loving home is not only discriminatory but runs counter to evidence that children grow up just as well when raised by gay parents. The group wants a quick decision ahead of the custody hearing next month.
"It’s deeply concerning that any judge would allow his personal bias to interfere with making a determination about what is the true best interest of the child," said Brandon Lorenz of the Human Rights Campaign.
Child welfare officials are working to keep the family together and hope the public outcry sends a strong message to the judge, Sumner said. "We’re really happy for this family, and we want to see them stay together," she added.
McCombs reported from Salt Lake City.