The legal implications of the growing rights of gay and lesbian couples played out in a custody battle that has spanned more than a decade, and tested Vermont’s new laws governing civil unions and gay marriage.
Lisa and Janet Miller-Jenkins were residents of Virginia, and in a committed same-sex relationship since the 1990s. Like many other couples, they traveled to Vermont to enter into a civil union soon after Vermont created the parallel marital status. The couple had a child after Lisa was artificially inseminated, and soon after, the couple moved to Vermont, where they lived for just over a year before the relationship ended.
Lisa moved back to Virginia with their daughter, and left “the homosexual lifestyle and drew closer to God,” as she said. The civil union was dissolved by a Vermont court, but both parents were granted custody rights under Vermont law. However, Lisa only allowed one visit by Janet before getting a Virginia court to declare her the sole legal parent of the child, denying Janet parental rights.
Their battle wound its way through Vermont and Virginia courts, with both parents drawing support and service from national legal foundations before a Vermont judge awarded Janet custody as of Jan. 1, 2010. However, by that time Lisa had fled to Nicaragua with their daughter, Isabella, aided by conservative Christians, who supported her denunciation of lesbianism as an addiction, and helped shield her and her daughter from U.S. federal agents trying to arrest her for parental abduction.
Two men (unrelated to each other or Lisa Miller) were arrested for aiding in her escape to Nicaragua, and charged with aiding a parental kidnapping. One, Virginia pastor Kenneth Miller, was convicted of the crime in a Virginia court and sentenced to 27 months in prison. Shortly after that conviction, Janet Jenkins filed a federal RICO lawsuit against the multiple ministries who aided Miller.
Lisa Miller and the couple’s daughter remain at large.