Mom and Daughter Go AWOL in Lesbian Custody Case

Vt. mom Janet Jenkins is "distraught," worried for missing 7-year-old's safety.

January 1, 2010, 2:48 PM

Jan. 1, 2009 — -- A Virginia woman who has been missing for more than a month with her daughter violated court orders to return her 7-year--old to her former lesbian partner today.

Lisa Miller, 41, of Winchester, Va., was ordered by a Vermont family court judge in November to hand over her daughter Isabella by 1 p.m. to Janet Jenkins , 45, of Fairhaven, Vt.

But according to Jenkins' lawyer, Miller failed to show up.

"Janet is quite distressed and she notified the police," said Sarah Star, Jenkins' Vermont lawyer. "She is concerned about Isabella's safety and Ms. Miller's mental stability."

Virginia's Fairfax County Police said they would await a court-ordered arrest warrant before offering to assist in the search for Miller, who was last heard from on a Dec. 4 Facebook posting.

The child is at the center of a landmark custody battle between two women she calls "Mommy," the first case to address same-sex unions when the parents cross state lines.

Miller and Jenkins were married in a civil union ceremony in Vermont in 2000. They split in 2004 when Isabella was 17 months old.

"This case is significant in how ordinary it is," Star told "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."

Miller, who is the biological mother through artificial insemination, fled to Virginia, where those civil unions are not recognized. There, she denounced homosexuality and became an evangelical Christian.

The custody battle has raged ever since.

When the civil union was dissolved, the Vermont judge awarded custody to Miller but granted liberal visitation rights to Jenkins. But after Miller failed to show up for scheduled parental visits at Jenkins' home, the court reversed the ruling on Nov. 20 and awarded custody to Jenkins.

The supreme courts of Virginia and Vermont ruled in favor of Jenkins, saying the case was the same as a custody dispute between a heterosexual couple.

The case was appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which declined to hear arguments on it, according to the Associated Press.

In an attempt to prevent Jenkins from being awarded full custody, Miller filed court documents through her attorney on Dec. 16 saying that her daughter would undergo "trauma" because of the "different religious beliefs" she would be exposed to living with Jenkins.

"[Isabella] knows that Ms. Jenkins' choice to continue to live a homosexual lifestyle is a sin," Miller said in the court documents. "Ms. Jenkins does not share these beliefs.

Miller also argued that Jenkins has testified that she would not attend church and would not take Isabella to any church that "taught hatred and bigotry."

Miller Missing Since Nov. 20 was unable to reach Miller today. A phone number listed under her name in Winchester, Va., reaches a recording saying the phone line has been temporarily disconnected at the customer's request.

An assistant to the lawyers representing Miller, Mathew Staver and Stephen Crampton, told that the lawyers were "on vacation and unavailable for comment on the matter." Staver is the dean of the law school at Liberty University , the Christian evangelical university founded by evangelist the Rev. Jerry Falwell in 1971.

Star says Jenkins last saw her daughter in January 2009 and spoke with her in March 2009.

In his custody ruling, Vermont Family Court Judge William Cohen said nobody has "seen or heard from" Miller and Isabella since Nov. 20, 2009.

The judge ordered custody to be switched from Miller to Jenkins after Miller repeatedly failed to allow visitation for her former partner.

Jenkins was not made available for an interview with Her lawyer Star said that she was not speaking the press so as to not cause "undue pressure" on her daughter .

"Jenkins has testified repeatedly that she'd leave religious decisions to Ms. Miller to the greatest extent possible," said Star. "Meaning that the obvious stumbling block is Ms. Jenkins is gay and she won't personally teach her daughter that she's going to hell."

"However, she would allow her to go to a church that even she was not welcome at," said Star.

Jenkins vows to allow "as liberal contact as possible between Isabella and her other mother," said Star.

Cathy Renna, a gay rights activist who lives with her lesbian partner and their 4-year-old daughter in Washington, D.C., where gay marriage was just legalized, said the case highlights the patchwork of laws across state lines pertaining to same-sex couples.

"My heart breaks when I ready about this case," she told "It's heartbreaking all around, primarily for this child. And we don't know what she is going through."

"The bottom line is this is a really stark example of why we really need to have legal protection in place for all families and especially same-sex couples," said Renna.

"Families are incredibly diverse and come in all shapes and sizes," she said. "You'd be hard-pressed to find a family that fit the June and Ward Cleaver model. Families are created in different ways and the law needs to understand and address that."

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