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A mother's instincts and judicial absurdity

Mary Hasson

When your former sex partner wants custody of your daughter—a child to whom she has no biological or adoptive relation—and the judge orders you to surrender the child, what’s a mother to do?

Run.  At least that’s what Lisa Miller has done: http://www.newsweek.com/id/172554/page/1

As a lawyer, I have great respect for judges and the rule of law.  But I’m also a mom.  I understand the fierce love that drives a mom to flee rather than put her child at the mercy of a judge who seems driven more by political agenda than a little girl’s welfare.

Lisa Miller’s former lover has now petitioned a Vermont court to hold Lisa in contempt because Lisa refuses to turn over her own daughter, Isabella, to the former lover. The wrinkle in this case: Lisa Miller is an ex-lesbian and her spurned sex partner is a woman named Janet Jenkins. 

The two women entered a civil union under Vermont law in 2000. Lisa chose to be artificially inseminated and gave birth to her daughter Isabella. And while Janet could have become Isabella’s adoptive parent, she refused to do so---a choice she now explains by saying, “I was told we didn't need to because we had the civil union.”  The two women broke up less than two years later, when Isabella was about 17 months old, and dissolved their civil union.

Lisa’s journey in faith led her to renounce her lesbian lifestyle and eventually she sought to refuse Janet any visitation rights with the child.  Her reasons?  Janet had no legal parental tie to Isabella—neither adoption nor biology—and she’d shown little interest in having a relationship with the girl anyway, at least up until Lisa concluded that homosexuality was “fundamentally wrong.” After a convoluted legal battle in two states, on November 20, 2009, a judge instead ordered Lisa to relinquish custody of her own daughter, Isabella, to Janet, the ex-lover.  And Lisa and Isabella fled.

The spin put on this case by the gay-lesbian community is that Lisa and Janet’s dispute should be treated like any other parental custody case:  barring abuse or threat to the child, no parent should be allowed to refuse the other parent visitation rights with their child.  Indeed, Jenkins’ lawyer argues that, "This case is significant in how ordinary it is…The court has decided that this couple be treated exactly like a heterosexual couple. [Jenkins] is a legal parent and they had all the rights of a married couple when the child was born into the marriage." (Hmm…last I heard, gays were pushing to legalize same-sex marriage by arguing that civil unions aren’t the same as marriage.)

What makes a parent a parent? Put differently, what makes a child “their” child? Up until now, the law has been clear: birth or adoption.  A child born within the marriage is presumed to be the child of the married couple, because their sexual relations—as male and female—are capable of generating offspring.  The presumption fosters marital stability, ensures clear responsibility for the child, and avoids paternity challenges.

However, it’s absurd to pretend that the same interests are even at stake in a gay civil union.  It’s clear from the get-go that both parties in a gay relationship cannot be the biological parents of a child born to one of them.  (Sorry, Janet, you were simply the sexual partner in a sterile lesbian relationship. Showing up at the IVF clinic doesn’t make you the parent. Arguably, the tech with the pipette was more intimately involved than you were.) Somewhere out there, Isabella has a daddy—one who signed away his paternity at a sperm bank. But neither his absence nor the civil union agreement can transform a lesbian sex partner into a “parent.”

So why would a judge take a child away from a loving and capable mother and order her to be placed in the custody of the mother’s former lesbian lover? Because this case is not really about what’s best for Isabella.

Isabella is a pawn on a very big chessboard. And the end game is to create a fiction: that gay sexual activity is as “normal” as male-female relations and that the relationships based on that activity should be treated like marriages. The cobbled-together “families” that result from this fiction are a flawed approximation of the real thing—no more natural than the nose on Michael Jackson’s face.

And when a judge discards the best interests of a child in order to perpetuate that fiction, we end up with a mom like Lisa on the lam.  She took flight in obedience to her motherly instincts, and in disobedience of the judge’s social-engineering-by-fiat. For Lisa, defying the judge’s order was a no-brainer. Surrendering custody of Isabella to a rejected lover with no biological or adoptive relationship to her daughter “would be like handing my child over to the milkman," she says.

I certainly wouldn’t hand my child over to the milkman.

Would you?

Topics: Culture , Current Events , Parenting

Mary Rice Hasson, the mother of seven, is a Fellow in Catholic Studies at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, Washington, D.C. She blogs at wordsfromcana.

View all articles by Mary Hasson

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