Lesbian Custody Case Controversy

Filed under: In The News

Lisa Miller answers questions about her custody battle during a news conference following arguments for her case before the court at the State Capitol in Richmond, Va., on April 17, 2008. Credit: Lisa Billings, AP


A Vermont judge recently ordered Lisa Miller of Virginia to relinquish custody of her 7-year-old daughter, Isabella, to her former partner, Janet Jenkins, because Miller had refused to abide by court-ordered visitations. On January 1, 2010, Miller officially violated the court order to transfer custody, according to the AP.

A child is caught in the middle of a custody case. Sad, perhaps, but not unusual. However, this particular case is newsworthy not only because both of the parents are women, but because one of those women appears to have kidnapped her child.

Back in 2000, Lisa Miller and Janet Jenkins entered into a civil union in Vermont, according to ABC News. Miller was impregnated via artificial insemination and gave birth to Isabella. Then Miller and Jenkins broke up, with Miller taking Isabella to Virginia, renouncing her lesbianism and embracing evangelical Christianity, according to ABC.

This case has been going on for years, and Miller's cause has been taken up by certain anti-gay marriage groups and individuals. In October of 2008, Miller gave an interview to LifeSiteNews.com, in which she discusses "how she became entangled in the lesbian lifestyle, after mental health workers convinced her she was a lesbian."

On a Facebook group called "Only One Mommy: The Story of Lisa and Isabella Miller," a user wrote the following: "Our sister in the Lord needs the parts of the body of Christ to stand up and defend her and that is exactly what we are going to do. This is much bigger than Isabella and her Mother." Someone replied with, "This issue is the promotion of gay rights and nothing else. Lisa and her child are nothing but victims in this case." And the Web site for the Protect Isabella Coalition asks questions that go beyond the immediate issues of the Miller-Jenkins case, such as "Why are Virginia's marriage laws and DOMA not working?"

Web publications such as TruthWinsOut and LezGetReal have countered with their own information campaign, including reprinting now-deleted blog entries from Miller's supporters. "'Ex-Gay' Mother's Supporters Encourage Kidnap" resurrects a blog entry written by Debbie Thurman, founder of a group called The Formers, in which Thurman wrote that "Lisa and Isabella Miller are nowhere to be found, just days before the court-mandated transfer of custody of 7-year-old Isabella to Janet Jenkins. Ya reckon?" Thurman added that "Lisa [Miller] obeyed God in seeking to raise Isabella in the Christian faith." Timothy Kincaid of the site Box Turtle Bulletin published a piece titled "Debbie Thurman: the source of Lisa's last communication" which points out that Thurman may have been the last person to speak with Lisa Miller, based on the fact that Thurman posted a message on Facebook titled "A Note from Lisa", something that LifeSiteNews refers to as "Miller's last public communication." Thurman took down her Web sites on Jan. 2, 2010, writing that "God is urging me to take a leave of absence from my ministry via the Formers."

Despite protestations from Miller's supporters, there appears to be no legal basis for her refusal to obey the court order. In an email interview with ParentDish, New York Law School Professor Arthur S. Leonard told us that "the law governing custody and visitation rights in the Miller-Jenkins case will be entirely Vermont law, as that is where the parties were residing with their child while they were civil union partners." He added that in his understanding of this case, the judge's "recent decision to change custody from Ms. Miller to Ms. Jenkins was based on the failure of Ms. Miller to comply with the visitation orders that were lawfully issued by the Vermont court. That is a well-established ground for changing custody if both parents are deemed 'fit' by the court," which is the case here.

The issues in the Miller-Jenkins case are not new. The 1991 Allison D. v. Virginia M. case in New York State "denied the nonbiological mother's claim, holding that she was not a parent within the meaning of the state's visitation statute because she was neither a biological nor an adoptive parent," according to Meredith Rosenthal, an attorney with the firm Friedman & Atherton LLP in Boston who also lectures on family law at New England Law/Boston, who answered questions from ParentDish via email. Rosenthal told us that there have been other cases since that time that took the opposite view, such as the 2005 case Jones v. Boring in Pennsylvania. "Even though the scales of justice are often weighted more heavily in favor of the biological parent, there are cases to be found in which custody is awarded to the other parent under a variety of circumstances," she said via email.

A January 6, 2010 report from Virginia television station WHSV says that Miller may go to jail when she is found. The station asks that anyone who knows where Miler and Isabella are hiding should contact the Center for Missing and Exploited Children by calling 800-843-5678.

Related:
Montana Upholds Same-Sex Partner's Parental Rights

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