By Peg McEntee
SALT LAKE CITY (Reuters) - A married lesbian couple in Utah are reported to be readying a legal challenge to a judge's decision ordering them to relinquish custody of a foster child because of their sexual orientation.
Beckie Peirce and April Hoagland, licensed as foster parents earlier this year, have cared for the infant girl over the past three months while the biological mother, who has asked them to adopt the child, goes through proceedings terminating her parental rights, local media have reported.
But on Tuesday, according to those press accounts, 7th District Court Juvenile Judge Scott Johansen ordered the baby removed from their custody, saying he had research showing that children were better off in the homes of heterosexual parents.
The judge's order, which the Salt Lake Tribune and other outlets said they had confirmed with the court, gave the Utah Division of Child and Family Services (DCFS) seven days to find the year-old girl another home.
The Utah attorney general's office said Thursday that it was reviewing Johansen's order but declined further comment.
Governor Gary Herbert, a Republican who had fought same-sex marriage in his state until the U.S. Supreme Court decision in June legalizing gay matrimony nationwide, said on Thursday that he was "a little puzzled" by Johansen's ruling.
"I expect the court and the judge to follow the law. He may not like the law, but he should follow the law," Herbert said during a monthly news conference in Salt Lake City. "We don't want to have activism on the bench in any way, shape or form."
The couple, already parents to Peirce's 12- and 14-year-old biological children, hired an attorney on Wednesday and intend to fight to keep their foster daughter, the Tribune and others reported on Thursday.
Peirce, 34, and Hoagland, 38, who live in east-central Utah, have said they have the support of DCFS, the child's court-appointed guardian and the biological mother.
Calls to the couple's attorney and the child welfare agency were not immediately returned, and the judge could not be reached for comment.
DCFS director Brent Platt told the Tribune his agency's lawyers would review the court order, in part to determine what grounds there may be for an appeal.
"If we feel like (Johansen's) decision is not best for the child," he said, "and we have a recourse to appeal or change it, we're going to do that."
He added that his agency would seek an alternative home for the infant in the meantime in order to comply with the judge.
He also said nothing in Utah law prohibits a legally married couple from serving as foster parents, and that no other state judge has expressed concerns about placing foster children with same-sex parents, according to the Tribune.
(Editing by Steve Gorman and Andrew Hay)