The case of Lisa Miller, Janet Jenkins and their 10-year old daughter, Isabella, is in the headlines as the Mennonite pastor that assisted Miller in fleeing the country goes on trial today in federal court in Burlington, Vermont. No one knows where Miller and Isabella are today; Jenkins has not seen her daughter in over 3-years.
The civil union between the two women began to deteriorate 8-years ago when Miller denounced lesbianism in favor of her born-again conversion into a conservative Christian sect known as the Beachy Amish Mennonites. Miller moved with Isabella to Virginia to be near church headquarters and tried to terminate Ms. Jenkins' parental rights.
The resulting protracted family court battle, waged in two state courts, resulted in an order of the Vermont Supreme Court granting custody to Jenkins; the Vermont ruling was honored and upheld by the courts in Virginia, where Miller tried to plead her cause.
Apparently, Miller had a change-of-heart regarding the family she created with Jenkins, and the lifestyle to which the parents belonged. Once Miller "found God" within the conservative Christian Mennonite sect, she saw lesbianism as an "addiction" and found her partner to be an unfit parent who would not be allowed into heaven because she lived, in sin, with women.
At that point, as is so often the case with folks who find religion later in life, no laws of man or high court rulings could hold her back from her religious convictions. In Virginia, Miller was employed for a time at Liberty Christian Academy, a school with close ties to Liberty University, the conservative christian college founded by Jerry Falwell.
Miller was represented in the family courts in the two states by lawyers from the Liberty Counsel, affiliated with the Liberty University's School of Law. Her lawyers took the position that Virginia law, not Vermont law, should apply to the custody dispute in this case on the basis that the latter state "recognized as a parent a person that is not a parent", contrary to "biblical truths." Virginia does not recognize same-sex unions as Vermont does.
Nevertheless, the Virginia family court and appellate courts ultimately ruled that Vermont properly had jurisdiction of the case. When the Vermont family court judge ordered a parenting schedule that Miller refused to follow, he changed custody of the child to Jenkins in Vermont.
Shortly after this custody ruling, Miller disappeared with her daughter to Nicaragua.
Stay tuned to see how the federal jury that is being selected today in Virginia decides the fate of the local pastor that assisted Miller with fleeing the country, and whether Miller and her daughter will ever turn-up.
Clashes over child custody, lifestyle and religion; this case features all that and then some. But we here at the Law Blogger must insist that it is never a good idea to take the law into your own hands. That principle holds true whether you are the parent, or the pastor.