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Vermont custody dispute highlights legal consequences of same-sex unions
Isabella and Lisa Miller
Isabella and Lisa Miller

.- In a case showing some ramifications of the legal recognition of same-sex unions, a Virginia woman has disobeyed a Vermont court order to turn over sole custody of her biological daughter to her former lesbian partner.

Lisa Miller conceived and gave birth to her daughter Isabella through artificial insemination in 2002 while living in a same-sex civil union with Janet Jenkins in Vermont. Miller left Jenkins and homosexual practice a year later and converted to an evangelical form of Christianity, the New York Times reports.

Jenkins brought a legal action seeking custody of Isabella in a Vermont court, claiming that the Vermont homosexual civil union law guarantees her parental rights.

Judge William D. Cohen of the Vermont Family Court granted significant visitation rights to Jenkins when he dissolved their union. He awarded custody to Jenkins on Nov. 20, 2009 after finding Miller in contempt of court for denying access to Isabella.

Miller has claimed that Isabella has shown signs of “violent reactions” to previous court-ordered visitations with Jenkins. She alleges that Isabella has complained that Jenkins forced her to bathe naked together.

"I do not feel safe leaving my daughter with her, and I believe I have a God-given and constitutional right to raise my child as I see fit," Miller has told Newsweek. "There is a homosexual agenda at work here, and Isabella is a pawn in their game.”

Supporters of Jenkins include the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the homosexual activist group Lambda Legal Defense Fund.

The legal advocacy group Liberty Council, which represents Miller, claims that for the last five years, Jenkins “has neither attempted to phone nor write Isabella. She has never sent Isabella a card of any kind for any occasion.”

Moreover, the Liberty Council said in a December 2009 statement, Jenkins “has refused to attend Isabella’s Christmas plays, because she does not want to be around a Christian environment. She has also said that it is not in Isabella’s best interest to be raised in a Christian home.”

Miller’s attorney, Liberty Council founder Mathew Staver, has argued that Virginia law holds same-sex unions and any right created by such unions are void and unenforceable in the state.

“The legislature and the people have spoken clearly and with one voice on this issue. The future of Isabella is literally being weighed in a balance between two states,” he said, according to the Christian Post.

Other commentators were critical of Judge Cohen.

Wendy Wright, president of Concerned Women for America, said he showed “little understanding of the case or sensitivity to children.”

“He claimed the change in parental custody, which includes moving to a new home, school, and state to live with a virtual stranger, would cause some disruption for Isabella but would not be out of the norm for a child,” she commented.

In a Monday e-mail to CNA, Maggie Gallagher, president of the National Organization for Marriage, made general comments about the case.

"I have sympathy for the pre-eminent claims of natural parents versus legal parents, when the natural mother is a fit parent (which nobody has denied in this case). But we have to be a nation ruled by laws, even when those laws may be unjust.

“Let this act as a warning call: Don't enter civil unions with people if you do not want to give them legal rights over your children. And do not give much faith in the ‘best interest of the child’ standard to protect your child. If the best interest of the child conflicts with fashionable legal norms, courts will not care what is in your child's best interest.

“It cannot be in Lisa's daughter's interest to be forcibly moved to Vermont away from the only mother she has ever known. This case is a tragedy all around. I cannot endorse what Lisa Miller has done, but I understand it, and pity both women and most of all this child. I wish Lisa's partner had the wisdom of Solomon, but I cannot blame her either," Gallagher told CNA.


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