SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — For Utah newlyweds John Wright and Wilson Bateman, the decision to take in three foster kids ages 3 through 12 wasn't hard.
"They stole our hearts when we met them," Wright said.
The couple married shortly after a federal judge struck down Utah's ban on same-sex marriage in December 2013, and they applied to become foster parents after the state started recognizing the unions nearly a year later.
They're among 15 same-sex couples who have volunteered to take in kids from state custody, according to Mike Hamblin, recruitment director at the Utah Foster Care Foundation. He said that number is a small but a growing portion of the nearly 1,300 licensed foster parents in the state.
Meanwhile, the state has about 2,650 in state care, most of whom have been abused, neglected, or both.
The state tries to work with parents and children so families can be reunited. If that's not possible, workers try to place kids with relatives. Before gay marriage was legalized, same-sex couples were also barred from taking in relatives' children.
"In every other way they're qualified; they're compassionate loving and caring. They know these kids and they say, 'I want to take care of these kids' and we had to say 'Sorry, you can't,'" said Brent Platt, director of the Division of Child and Family Services, to the Deseret News paper in Salt Lake City (http://bit.ly/1HypgR8).
Some people, like Brigham Young University law professor Lynn Wardle, have expressed concern about adding same-sex couples to foster parenting ranks. Wardle wrote in a 2015 law review article that the history is relatively short and the full effect on kids of having two parents of the same gender isn't known.
But Platt says that child welfare workers support kids in all family units. Caseworkers are trained to respect families' cultures and values, but leave out their own personal opinions.
"The reality is, if you can't keep (opinions) out of it, then you might want to find another job. The expectation is you're going to respect whatever family unit you're involved with," Platt said.
The rulings legalizing gay marriage widen the pool of potential foster parents, he said.
Wright and Bateman got a call from a caseworker days after they earned their foster license. A boy and his two sisters needed a foster family. The couple clicked with the children when they met at an ice cream shop, and shortly after the kids started living with them full-time.
It hasn't all been easy. The toddler wasn't potty trained. There were night terrors and developmental delays. The kids initially resisted when their foster fathers set a schedule and expected them to read books instead of playing video games.
But five months later, the older children have made significant gains.
There are still some challenges.
"I'm still trying to learn how to do little girls' hair," Wright said. "For now, it's just pigtails and ponytails around here."