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Law Against Nature
January 2, 2010 permalink
Seven-year-old Isabella is at the center of a custody dispute. Her mother Lisa Miller has left her spouse and claims sole custody. The courts have ruled that the ex is entitled to visitation with the child, but Miller refuses to comply with the court, blocking her ex from seeing Isabella.
Up to this point, it is a totally routine case, repeated thousands of times in family court. The usual outcome is that the courts do little to enforce visitation, but compel dad to pay child support to the defiant mother while the child grows up fatherless. But in this case, the ex-spouse is another woman, Janet Jenkins. Janet has no biological connection to the child, her only claim comes from the law; Miller and Jenkins were joined in a Vermont civil union in 2000. In direct defiance of nature, the law treats Jenkins as co-parent of Isabella. Courts are going to be wasting a lot of time on cases like this until the law recognizes a fact of nature: two people of the same sex cannot produce a child.
7:26 p.m. Friday, January 1, 2010
Va. woman fails to give up child to ex-partner
By BEN NUCKOLS, The Associated Press
A woman at the center of a complex dispute with her former lesbian partner defied a court order to give up custody of her 7-year-old daughter Friday, opening the door to possible criminal charges.
A Vermont judge had ordered Lisa Miller to turn over daughter Isabella to Janet Jenkins at 1 p.m. Friday at the Falls Church, Va., home of Jenkins' parents. Miller did not show up with the girl, according to Fairfax County, Va., police and Jenkins' Vermont-based attorney.
"She's very disappointed, obviously," said Sarah Star, Jenkins' lawyer. "She's very concerned about Isabella and asks that if anybody sees Isabella, that they please contact the authorities."
The Jenkins family called police after Miller failed to show. A detective interviewed the family and determined that Fairfax County authorities would not be investigating the girl's whereabouts because of jurisdictional concerns, said Officer Tawny Wright, a police spokeswoman.
Star said she had also contacted authorities in Rutland County, Vt., where Jenkins lives, and Bedford County, Va., where Miller was living the last time Jenkins knew her whereabouts. Wright said it would be up to authorities in those counties to decide whether to investigate.
If police believe a crime has been committed, they would obtain a criminal warrant charging Miller with parental abduction. For the time being, the case remains a civil matter.
Miller and Jenkins were joined in a Vermont civil union in 2000. Isabella was born to Miller through artificial insemination in 2002. The couple broke up in 2003, and Miller moved to Virginia, renounced homosexuality and became an evangelical Christian.
When Vermont Family Court Judge William Cohen dissolved the couple's civil union, he awarded custody to Miller but granted liberal visitation rights 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.
Cohen awarded custody to Jenkins on Nov. 20after finding Miller in contempt of court for denying Jenkins access to the girl. The judge said the only way to ensure equal access to the child was to switch custody.
But Cohen also noted that it appeared Miller had stopped speaking to her attorneys and "disappeared" with the child.
Miller's last known address is in Forest, Va. A telephone number listed for her at that address rang unanswered Friday.
Her attorney, Mathew D. Staver, the law school dean at Liberty University, did not respond to a request through an assistant for comment.
Carl Tobias, a University of Richmond law professor who has followed the case, said it was likely the Vermont judge would issue another contempt order in the wake of Friday's developments.
Source: Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Addendum: The supreme court of Vermont awards custody to the non-bio-mother.
Custody upheld for Vt. lesbian non-biological mom
MONTPELIER, Vt. -- The Vermont Supreme Court says a family court was right to award custody of an 8-year-old girl to her non-biological mother in a lesbian custody case.
In a ruling released Monday, the court upheld a 2009 order giving Janet Jenkins sole custody of Isabella Miller-Jenkins. It rejected an appeal by attorneys for biological mother Lisa Miller.
Jenkins is from Fair Haven, Vt. Miller is from Forest, Va. They were joined in a civil union in Vermont in 2000. Their daughter has been the subject of a long-running legal fight.
The custody ruling may be a moot point: Miller has renounced her homosexuality, and she and her daughter failed to appear for a court-ordered custody swap in January. Their whereabouts are now unknown.
Source: Washington Post
Addendum: The US supreme court refuses to intervene.
Court refuses to step into custody dispute
WASHINGTON -- The Supreme Court has declined to step into a lesbian custody dispute between a woman who has renounced her homosexuality and her onetime partner.
The justices on Monday turned down an appeal from Lisa Miller, the biological mother of an 8-year-old girl. Miller wanted the court to undo a Virginia court decision allowing Janet Jenkins visitation rights with the girl.
Jenkins is from Vermont. Miller is from Virginia. They were joined in a civil union in Vermont in 2000. Their daughter has been the subject of a long-running legal fight.
Miller has renounced her homosexuality. She and her daughter did not appear for a court-ordered custody swap in January. Their whereabouts are unknown.
The case is Miller v. Jenkins, 10-177.
Source: Washington Post
Pastor Timothy D Miller has been arrested in the effort to track down the mother and child.
FBI arrests man in Vt.-Va. custody case
MONTPELIER, Vt. — The FBI has arrested a man and accused him of helping a Virginia woman involved in a custody dispute with her former partner leave the United States and move to Nicaragua.
Timothy D. Miller helped Lisa Miller and 9-year-old daughter Isabella avoid a custody order by traveling to Central America in September 2009, the FBI said.
“I know very little at this point, but I really hope that this means that Isabella is safe and well,” said Miller’s former partner, Janet Jenkins of Fair Haven. “I am looking forward to having my daughter home safe with me very soon,” she said in a statement released by Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, which has provided legal help to Jenkins.
Lisa Miller and Janet Jenkins were joined in a Vermont civil union in 2000. Isabella was born to Miller in 2002, and the couple broke up in 2003. Miller moved to Virginia, renounced homosexuality and became an evangelical Christian.
She was granted custody of Isabella, but Jenkins got visitation rights.
Courts in Vermont and Virginia have since ruled in favor of Jenkins on the custody issue, most recently in November 2009, when Rutland Family Court Judge William Cohen — frustrated by Miller’s refusal to obey court orders — ordered her to surrender custody to Jenkins.
Miller, of Forest, Va., and the girl failed to appear for a court-ordered custody swap Jan. 1, 2010, in which Jenkins was to get the girl.
Since then, Jenkins’s attorney has said the two are believed to have moved to El Salvador. Last year, an arrest warrant was issued for Miller, but it was sealed.
Jenkins’s attorney, Sarah Star, called the arrest the biggest development in the case so far.
Investigators said they don’t know whether Timothy and Lisa Miller are related.
Source: Washington Post
Addendum: The New York Times discovers the story and brings it up to date as of July 2012. The mother and child are hiding, probably somewhere in Nicaragua, and Kenneth Miller (no relation to Lisa) is facing criminal charges for helping them escape to Nicaragua.
Which Mother for Isabella? Civil Union Ends in an Abduction and Questions
MANAGUA, Nicaragua — Lisa A. Miller and her daughter, Isabella, started their fugitive lives here in the fall of 2009, disguised in the white scarves and long blue dresses of the Mennonites who spirited them out of the United States and adopting the aliases Sarah and Lydia.
Now 10, Isabella Miller-Jenkins has spent her last three birthdays on the run, “bouncing around the barrios of Nicaragua,” as one federal agent put it, a lively blond girl and her mother trying to blend in and elude the United States marshals who have traveled to the country in pursuit.
She can now chatter in Spanish, but her time in Nicaragua has often been lonely, those who have met her say, long on prayer but isolated. She has been told that she could be wrenched from her mother if they are caught. She has also been told that the other woman she once called “Mama,” Ms. Miller’s former partner from a civil union in Vermont that she has since renounced, cannot go to heaven because she lives in sin with women.
Isabella’s tumultuous life has embodied some of America’s bitterest culture wars — a choice, as Ms. Miller said in a courtroom plea, shortly before their desperate flight, “between two diametrically opposed worldviews on parentage and family.”
Isabella was 7 when she and Ms. Miller jumped into a car in Virginia, leaving behind their belongings and a family of pet hamsters to die without food or water. Supporters drove them to Buffalo, where they took a taxi to Canada and boarded a flight to Mexico and then Central America.
Ms. Miller, 44, is wanted by the F.B.I. and Interpol for international parental kidnapping. In their underground existence in this impoverished tropical country, she and Isabella have been helped by evangelical groups who endorse her decision to flee rather than to expose Isabella to the “homosexual lifestyle” of her other legal mother, Janet Jenkins.
In a tale filled with improbables, an Amish Mennonite sect known for simple living and avoiding politics has been drawn into the high-stakes criminal case: one of its pastors is facing trial in Vermont on Aug. 7 on charges of abetting the kidnapping.
The decade-long drama touches on some of the country’s most contentious social and legal questions, including the extension of civil union and marital rights to same-sex couples and what happens, in the courts and to children, when such unions dissolve.
In this case, the passions of any divorce were multiplied by Ms. Miller’s born-again conversion to conservative Christianity and her denouncing of lesbianism as an addiction. Ms. Miller repeatedly prevented Isabella’s court-ordered visits with Ms. Jenkins until an exasperated Vermont judge said he would transfer custody.
And then Ms. Miller fled.
Her supporters say she has been persecuted because of her religion. They made “Protect Isabella” a rallying cry at a time when more gay couples are raising children, whether through adoption or, in Lisa Miller’s case, in vitro fertilization.
“I only want to see my daughter,” Ms. Jenkins said in an interview this spring in the four-bedroom house in Vermont that she and Ms. Miller bought when they dreamed of having five children. Ms. Jenkins, 47, has since married another woman and runs a day care business.
Even as Ms. Miller disappeared with Isabella, the Vermont judge granted Ms. Jenkins formal custody of the girl, as of Jan. 1, 2010. Ms. Jenkins keeps a bedroom piled with toys that Isabella is surely outgrowing.
“What’s hard for me as a parent is not knowing what she’s going through,” Ms. Jenkins said.
At the center of the story is a girl, tall for her age, whose cheerful face appears on a poster from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Based on the first extended interviews with the missionaries who harbored the pair, visits to places where Isabella and Ms. Miller stayed in Nicaragua and court documents, The New York Times has assembled the most complete picture yet of their getaway and subsequent life.
A Romance Turns Bitter
Lisa Miller and Janet Jenkins met at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting in Falls Church, Va., in 1997. In later interviews, with supporters and her lawyers, Ms. Miller described growing up with a mentally unstable mother and dealing with her own problems of pill addictions, food disorders and self-mutilation. After a failed marriage and a suicide attempt, she said, she began seeing women.
Ms. Jenkins, when they met, had recently ended a long-term relationship with a woman.
“It was a normal courtship, and we fell in love,” Ms. Jenkins recalled. “We wanted to have a family and spend the rest of our lives together.”
They became pioneers of sorts: in 2000, soon after Vermont became the first state to offer civil unions, they traveled there to seal the relationship, adopting the joint surname Miller-Jenkins.
When Ms. Miller decided to get pregnant through in vitro fertilization, they picked a donor with Ms. Jenkins’s green eyes. Isabella Ruth Miller-Jenkins was born in Virginia on April 16, 2002. Ms. Jenkins cut the umbilical cord as her own mother, Ruth, stood in the room.
Preferring to raise a family in a state that endorsed same-sex relationships, the couple moved to southern Vermont. They bought a two-story house within walking distance of a grade school in Fair Haven, a small town known for Victorian houses and summer music on the village green.
Isabella learned to call Ms. Jenkins “Mama” and Ms. Miller “Mommy.” In these apparently happier days, Ms. Miller made an Easter card for Ms. Jenkins with Isabella’s handprints and the words, “Mamma I love you.”
Ms. Miller later said in interviews that even before the move, she was rediscovering Christianity and questioning her lesbianism. During her difficult pregnancy with Isabella, “I promised God that if he would save my baby, I would leave the homosexual lifestyle,” she said in notes she left for one of her lawyers, Rena M. Lindevaldsen, associate dean of the Liberty University Law School. Ms. Lindevaldsen describes the notes in “Only One Mommy,” New Revolution Publishers, her 2011 book on Ms. Miller and what she calls the threat of “the homosexual lifestyle.”
But such doubts were not apparent to Ms. Jenkins, who said they lived as Unitarians at the time, nor to Ms. Jenkins’s parents in Virginia, Roman Catholics who said they had warm relations with Ms. Miller and doted over their new grandchild.
Ms. Miller became pregnant again but had a miscarriage. She fell into depression, according to Ms. Jenkins; Ms. Miller later said that she was tortured by guilt. They separated in September 2003, when Isabella was 17 months old. Ms. Miller moved back to Virginia, a state that does not recognize same-sex unions or marriage.
Ms. Jenkins signed a promise to pay child support, and they agreed, she said, that she and her parents would remain in Isabella’s life.
“I wanted to preserve the close bond with Isabella,” Ms. Jenkins said, and she started visiting on weekends, making the 10-hour drive from Vermont. Their civil union was formally dissolved in 2004, and Family Court in Vermont granted custody to Ms. Miller with visiting rights for Ms. Jenkins.
But according to court records, Ms. Miller soon began to block visits, disappearing with Isabella before Ms. Jenkins arrived. As she became more vocal about her religious beliefs she moved to Lynchburg, Va., where she got a teaching job at Liberty Christian Academy, a Baptist school founded by the Rev. Jerry Falwell with close ties to Liberty University, which he also founded.
Her legal case was taken up by Liberty Counsel, which is affiliated with the Liberty Law School. Her lawyers, led by the dean of the law school, Matthew D. Staver, and Ms. Lindevaldsen, invoked the federal Defense of Marriage Act to argue that Virginia’s laws had precedence and that Ms. Jenkins was not a parent.
Seeing the custody battle as an important test, national gay rights advocates including Lambda Legal, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders have given legal aid to Ms. Jenkins.
Initially, a Virginia court sided with Ms. Miller, and for two years she did not allow Ms. Jenkins to see Isabella. She told Ms. Jenkins’s parents that they should not consider themselves Isabella’s grandparents and that the child could no longer call them “Mom-Mom” and “Pop-Pop.”
“I couldn’t believe that Lisa was saying this,” Ruth Jenkins said in an interview. “I was in shock.”
But eventually, setting what legal experts said was an important precedent, the Virginia Supreme Court determined that Vermont still had jurisdiction, regardless of Virginia’s stance on same-sex unions. The Vermont court laid out a new schedule of visits.
In 2009, Ms. Miller’s options were shrinking.
That January, she again started blocking visits. She complained, in a court filing and to friends, that Ms. Jenkins had upset Isabella by taking a bath with the child and was undermining the girl’s conservative beliefs by reading her “Heather Has Two Mommies.” When Isabella returned from a rare visit to Vermont showing anxiety and wetting her bed, Ms. Miller blamed Ms. Jenkins.
The exasperated judge in Vermont held Ms. Miller in contempt once again but gave her another chance, specifying visits in Virginia and in Vermont. But none took place. In August, the judge warned that he would transfer custody and ordered a weekend visit for late September.
Ms. Miller’s written appeal to the judge that fall gives some idea of her thinking.
“What is at stake is the health and well-being of an intelligent, delightful, beautiful, 7-year-old Christian girl,” she wrote. Isabella “knows from her own reading of the Bible that marriage is between a man and a woman,” she wrote, “that she cannot have two mommies, that when I lived the homosexual lifestyle I sinned against God, and that unless Janet accepts Christ as her personal savior, she will not go to heaven.”
Ms. Miller was also under financial pressure because her teaching position had not been renewed.
She prayed long hours, hoping God would tell her what was best for her daughter, said Linda M. Wall, a conservative activist and self-described “ex-gay” who befriended her in Virginia.
“I told Lisa that she should have a Plan B,” Ms. Wall said, but Ms. Miller, she added, seemed to resist the idea.
In fact, Ms. Miller made a secret plan, the government alleges, based partly on recovered e-mails and phone records.
One person named in the court papers is Philip Zodhiates, the owner of a conservative Christian direct-mail-list service who lives in Waynesboro, Va., and owns a beach house in Nicaragua. The other is Kenneth L. Miller, a pastor of the Beachy Amish Mennonite sect in Stuart’s Draft, Va., and manager of a family garden business five minutes from Mr. Zodhiates’s home. (He is not related to Lisa Miller.)
Mr. Zodhiates has not been indicted, but Mr. Miller’s trial is set to begin on Aug. 7. Prosecutors, citing extensive e-mail correspondence, say that he helped make arrangements for the escape to Nicaragua. If convicted, he could be sentenced to three years in prison. E-mails in the court documents suggest that Mr. Zodhiates also helped with the flight and later sent “care packages” with items like peanut butter to Lisa and Isabella.
Mr. Miller and Mr. Zodhiates declined to comment for this article.
Just how Ms. Miller got in touch with Kenneth Miller remains a central legal question, said Sarah Star, Ms. Jenkins’s lawyer in Vermont.
One of Mr. Zodhiates’s daughters, Victoria Hyden, is an administrative assistant at the Liberty Law School. But Mr. Staver, the dean, said that while he had met Mr. Zodhiates a few times, neither he nor his colleagues had ever discussed the Miller case with him or Ms. Hyden, and that they, too, were surprised when Ms. Miller disappeared.
On Sept. 21, 2009, Ms. Miller and Isabella drove south to meet Kenneth Miller, who, according to court documents and missionaries in Nicaragua, gave them Mennonite dresses and scarves for their journey. That evening they were driven to Buffalo, a trip documented by the F.B.I. in a trail of calls from two cellphones registered to Mr. Zodhiates’s company, Response Unlimited.
Just after midnight, prosecutors allege, Ms. Miller and Isabella took a taxi over the Rainbow Bridge at Niagara Falls and were met by a Mennonite pastor who put them on a plane to Mexico City, where they continued on to El Salvador and Nicaragua.
The tickets had been bought at Kenneth Miller’s request, according to the indictment, with the purchase arranged by a fellow Mennonite pastor in Nicaragua who had his mother-in-law in the United States buy them. She was reimbursed with a money order from Virginia.
Ms. Wall said that after no one had heard from Ms. Miller for three weeks, she let herself into her house outside Lynchburg.
“Inside, it looked like she had just gone to the grocery store,” Ms. Wall recalled. The curling iron was sitting out and the closets were filled. When she discovered the dead hamster family, she said, she knew they were long gone.
“I thought, wow, congratulations Lisa Miller, you did it,” she recalled.
Embraced by Mennonites
Ms. Miller and Isabella were met at the Managua airport by Timothy D. Miller, 35, known as Timo, an ebullient pastor who was born to missionaries in Honduras and runs the Beachy Amish Mennonite outpost in a rough area of this capital city. He drove them straight to the interior town of Jinotega, in the coffee-growing hills of northern Nicaragua, he said in an interview, where they lived for two months on a farm. (Timo Miller is not related to either Kenneth or Lisa Miller.)
Isabella enjoyed the animals, but it was a rainy, foggy time of year in Jinotega and Ms. Miller felt isolated, Timo Miller said. The pair moved to Managua, to a $150-a-month one-bedroom home near the Mennonite mission.
The mother and daughter came to visit nearly every day, as Lisa helped with home schooling. Some evenings, Isabella sat on the pastor’s lap as he read to her and his own four children the American Girl books, “Little House on the Prairie” and Bible stories. “We were like family,” he recalled.
One of his daughters, RuthAnna, 9, said she and the girl she knew as Lydia used to ride bicycles in their courtyard and enjoyed giggle-filled sleepovers at each other’s homes. “We were best friends,” she said.
Mr. Miller’s wife, Joanna, said that when they went shopping together, “people would gawk over Isabella and her blond hair.”
But “the isolation is driving her and little Lydia crazy,” Timo Miller wrote of Lisa and her daughter in an e-mail to friends.
He noted that the girl’s 8th birthday was coming up on April 16, 2010, and said that she could use cheering up with a party. “She is going through a lot,” he wrote to his parents, also missionaries, who lived in the remote town of Waslala.
Timo Miller’s family and their guests made the rugged five-hour drive to Waslala, where the Mennonites have five scattered churches and a clinic among small cattle ranches and bean farms. The family of Pablo Yoder, another pastor, hosted a birthday party at their tranquil homestead with a green lawn and a pet macaw.
Isabella was feted by some 25 Mennonites with a cake, homemade ice cream and a piñata for the children. After a dinner of rice and chicken, they sang hymns in the yard, Mr. Yoder said in an interview in Waslala.
The group from Managua returned home within a day or two. But personal relations with Ms. Miller, who tends to see things “in black and white,” Timo Miller said, were getting strained. Within weeks after the party, she and her daughter moved back to Jinotega, renting a house on their own in town.
Missionaries in Jinotega, too, indicated that Ms. Miller struggled with depression.
“Lisa is very independent-minded,” said David Friesen, 45, a Canadian Mennonite in Jinotega. “She needed spiritual help,” he said, and there were issues of anger and forgiveness from her past life.
But eventually, he said, she embraced the fundamentalist faith of the Mennonites. She also showed initiative, inviting neighborhood children into her home to read them Bible stories through an interpreter.
Everything changed on April 18, 2011, a year after the birthday party, when Timo Miller, returning for a vacation in the United States with his family, was arrested at Dulles Airport and charged with aiding a kidnapping. Ms. Miller and Isabella quickly disappeared from their house in Jinotega, and there have been no reported sightings since, but federal agents believe the pair remain in Nicaragua.
In December 2011, federal prosecutors dropped the charges against Timo Miller in return for his testimony and filed charges against Kenneth Miller for what they allege was his more central role in the flight from the United States.
Up to Timo Miller’s arrest, the missionaries in Nicaragua said, they had not realized they could be prosecuted.
“We had no idea what we were getting into,” Mr. Friesen said of the decision to shelter Ms. Miller and Isabella. But he added, “We are willing to be persecuted for God’s will.”
Timothy Schrock, 46, bishop of the Mennonites in Nicaragua, originally approved Kenneth Miller’s request to help Isabella and her mother. Speaking in Waslala, where he is pastor of a remote church, he said that the “brethren,” as they call themselves, now feel under siege, their phones and e-mails presumably monitored, and some are afraid to return to American soil.
But he supported Ms. Miller’s decision to flee on religious grounds.
“As many rights as Janet may have, this child is being pushed into a situation that God has not agreed with,” Mr. Schrock said.
Ms. Lindevaldsen, the lawyer, said she knew that her former client could face jail time if caught, and that Isabella’s life could take another wrenching turn. She blames a misguided legal system.
“It’s sad that in America a woman was faced with this choice,” she said. “The court overstepped its bounds, calling someone a parent who is not a parent and turning a child over to a person who lives contrary to biblical truths.”
Ms. Jenkins said she had learned to shrug off the personal attacks and worries only about Isabella’s welfare, after years in hiding in a strange land, with all her former ties lost.
“Isabella was such a happy child,” she said. “That’s one of the things I hope has stayed the same.”
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: July 29, 2012
An earlier version of this article misidentified the name of an organization that gave legal aid to one of the women, Janet Jenkins. It is the Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders, not the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation. The article also misspelled the given name of one of the lawyers for the other woman, Lisa A. Miller. He is Mathew D. Staver, not Matthew.
Source: New York Times
On August 14, 2012 a jury found Kenneth Miller guilty of aiding and abetting in an international kidnapping.