Utah judge amends order taking foster baby from lesbian couple: reports

SALT LAKE CITY (Reuters) - A Utah judge on Friday amended a controversial ruling that would have forced a married lesbian couple to relinquish custody of their infant foster daughter within a week, instead scheduling a Dec. 4 hearing on the issue, local media reported.

The couple has cared for the nine-month-old girl since August, but on Tuesday the judge ordered state child welfare workers to remove the baby from the couple's home because of their sexual orientation and find new foster parents within seven days.

According to the state Division of Child and Family Services (DCFS), which opposed the removal order, the judge cited unspecified research that he said showed children were better off with heterosexual parents.

The DCFS said on Thursday it had filed a motion urging Judge Scott Johansen of the Seventh District Court in east-central Utah to reconsider and vowed to petition an appeals court to intervene if his order were not vacated.

In a ruling on Friday, Johansen amended his order requiring removal of the child and instead set the Dec. 4 hearing to determine what is in the baby's best interest, according to the Salt Lake Tribune newspaper and other local media.

Representatives from the court, the Utah attorney general's office and the DCFS could not immediately be reached for comment.

News of Johansen's initial ruling sparked an outcry from gay rights and civil liberties advocates.

Even Republican Governor Gary Herbert, who had fought same-sex marriage in his state until the U.S. Supreme Court decision in June legalizing gay matrimony nationwide, had said that he was "puzzled" by the judge's order.

The Salt Lake City-area couple, Beckie Peirce and April Hoagland, had vowed through their lawyer to fight to keep the child and said they want to adopt her.

The couple, licensed as foster parents earlier this year, already are parents to Peirce's 12- and 14-year-old biological children and say they were planning to adopt their foster infant at the request of the baby's biological mother, news media have reported.

(Reporting by Peg McEntee; Writing by Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Alden Bentley)