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When lesbian mommies collide: birth mom disappears with child prior to custody turn-over date

(VIRGINIA) Judges presiding over divorce proceedings often have to rule on issues that pertain to the parents’ child custody rights. More often than not, primary custody is given to the child’s mother but what happens when that child has two mommies? Or, what happens when one of those two mommies is no longer a lesbian and refuses to acknowledge the other mommy, despite legal intervention? This is the case for 7-year-old Isabella and her two mothers, Lisa Miller and Janet Jenkins.

Miller and Jenkins have been involved in an ongoing legal battle since 2003. Unlike traditional child custody hearings however, Miller is now a born again Christian who has renounced her previous homosexual lifestyle and feels that her daughter should not be exposed to a lifestyle of sin. As a result, she has subsequently disobeyed court orders granting Jenkins visitation rights.

In the most recent ruling, which was a direct result of Miller’s repeated refusal to abide by the court-ordered custody arrangements, a Vermont Judge ordered Miller to transfer custody to Jenkins by January 1, 2010. This was determined to be the only way to guarantee visitation of the child between the two mothers. However, in the weeks prior to the court-ordered turnover date, it appears Miller has vanished with the child, cutting off contact even with her attorneys.

Whether she will abide by the Judge’s current ruling and relinquish custody to Jenkins remains to be seen, but given the powerhouse of support both Miller and Jenkins have received, this story is far from over and the battle over Isabella is likely to grow into an issue that will soon dominate national headlines.

A Brief Summary
Miller and Jenkins met at an AA meeting in Virginia sometime in 1997. Their friendship turned into a love affair and within six months of beginning their intimacies, they were moving in together. In 2000, when Vermont legalized same-sex civil unions, the couple took a weekend trip and legalized their union.

Like many couples, they aspired to have children. In 2001, Miller became pregnant through artificial insemination and after Isabella’s birth, the couple moved to Vermont. They were unable to make the relationship work and by 2003, when Isabella was just 17-months old, both Miller and Jenkins wanted out of the union.

Miller moved back to Virginia, where she claims she rediscovered her faith and subsequently filed for a dissolution of their civil union in Vermont, where Jenkins had remained. In the beginning, Miller agreed to let Jenkins have visitation rights and even accepted her child support payments. However somewhere along the way, Miller decided that Jenkins’ lifestyle was detrimental to their child’s upbringing. She began refusing unsupervised visitations, even claiming at one point that Jenkins was harming Isabella, allegations that Virginia Child Protective Services found to be false.

The legal battle ensued, further complicated by conflicting laws between Virginia and Vermont regarding same-sex civil unions and parental rights. In numerous court appearances, Miller argued for her right to sole custody, but ultimately both the Virginia and Vermont courts ruled that Jenkins was indeed a parental figure and entitled to visitation rights.

The legal fight
The expenses involved in a lengthy case such as this were covered by the various political and religious groups that have joined in the fight.

Miller’s legal team is the Liberty Counsel, a “non-profit litigation, education and policy organization dedicated to advancing religious freedom, the sanctity of human life and the traditional family.” The same organization that vigilantly defends Christmas in public schools, opposes abortion and same-sex marriage, and recently filed a complaint with the FCC against Adam Lambert’s AMA performance.

Various church groups have also supported Miller with prayer and by forming coalitions. The website of one such coalition, Protect Isabella, claims Miller and Isabella are fighting “judicial tyranny” and the “…growing wave of liberal, pro-gay ideology [that] is sweeping the country.”

On the other hand, Jenkins has prominent GLBT advocates supporting her cause. The ACLU even filed a motion on her behalf, requesting Miller be arrested for purposefully ignoring court orders (the motion failed in August of this year).  Jenkins’ attorney is a prominent Gay Rights advocate and father of two, who is representing her case pro bono.

In one of their December 2008 issues, Newsweek featured a story titled, “Mrs. Kramer vs. Mrs. Kramer.” The story not only highlighted the legal implications involved, but also gave each woman an equal opportunity to state her case to the American public.

Miller expressed her concerns to Newsweek, stating, "There is a homosexual agenda at work here, and Isabella is a pawn in their game. It has nothing to do with the law. Isabella was saved at age 4, loves God, and knows what's right and what's wrong. We don't hate Janet, we pray for her soul and salvation."

“Isabella has done nothing to deserve this," Jenkins told Newsweek. "If she was 12 years old and said, 'You're a homosexual and I don't want you in my life,' I would let it go. I would say I will always be there for you when you need me. But today, it's not Lisa's choice to make for a little 6-year-old."

Sadly, the battle over Isabella is, for many others, a battle over the legality of same-sex couples; each side pointing to the other as a prime example of their own political and religious agendas. Each mother may not have originally intended for that to be the case, but it certainly is now.

One can only hope that as the legal battle proceeds, the courts will continue to keep in mind the well being of the now 7-year-old little girl at the heart of the conflict and not the political or religious implications.