The Virginia Court of Appeals heard oral arguments this past week on the issue of whether Virginia must enforce a custody order and visitation order arising from a dissolved Vermont same-sex civil union.
Though Virginia’s state law and constitution expressly ban enforcement of any right or order arising from same-sex marriage, civil unions, or domestic partnerships, a Vermont judge last month ordered Lisa Miller of Virginia to transfer custody of her 7-year-old daughter, Isabella, to her former partner, Janet Jenkins of Vermont, by Jan. 1, 2010.
The order was made after Miller repeatedly refused to abide by a court-ordered custody arrangement, alleging that Isabella exhibited "violent reactions" to spending with Jenkins and was even forced at one time to bathe with her.
"I do not feel safe leaving my daughter with her, and I believe I have a God-given and constitutional right to raise my child as I see fit," Miller told Newsweek.
"There is a homosexual agenda at work here, and Isabella is a pawn in their game,” she added.
Miller, a born-again Christian, had renounced her homosexuality just a few years after entering into a civil union with Jenkins in Vermont in 2000. Jenkins, on the other hand, is today still an active lesbian and has expressed disapproval in raising Isabella in a Christian home.
For the past five years, Miller and Jenkins have been engaged in a custody battle over Isabella, who was conceived when the two women were living together in Virginia. Initial litigation focused only on whether Virginia had to register the Vermont order. The present case centers on whether Virginia must enforce the terms of the civil union order.
According to Miller’s attorney, Mathew Staver, Virginia law makes it clear that same-sex unions and any right arising from such unions are void and unenforceable in the state.
“The legislature and the people have spoken clearly and with one voice on this issue. The future of Isabella is literally being weighed in a balance between two states,” commented Staver, who is founder of Fla.-based Liberty Counsel and dean of Liberty University School of Law in Lynchburg, Va.
"The critical time has arrived in this case,” he added.
Though arguments were heard this past Wednesday, there is no set time frame in which the Virginia Court of Appeals will issue its ruling.
Conservative Christians who have been monitoring the case have been calling for prayers for Miller and Isabella, noting that Jenkins not only has no biological or legal relationship with Isabella, she has also neither attempted to phone nor write Isabella for the last five years.
“Vermont Family Court Judge William Cohen showed little understanding of the case or sensitivity to children,” noted Wendy Wright, president of Concerned Women for America. “He claimed the change in parental custody, which includes moving to a new home, school, and state to live with a virtual stranger, would cause some disruption for Isabella but would not be out of the norm for a child.”
Miller’s supporters also point out that the court has repeatedly found Miller to be a fit parent of Isabella.
“Please pray that the Virginia Court of Appeals will uphold natural law and Virginia's laws,” urged Wright.
“Pray that the judges will not place homosexual demands above the law by ignoring the constitution they have sworn to uphold. Pray that they will have compassion on a little girl and not allow homosexual activists to use children as pawns in their war for affirmation," she added.
Seeking to transfer custody of Isabella to Jenkins is the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Lambda Legal Defense Fund.
They say the case is not about same-sex marriage or civil union, but about the fact that litigating custody and visitation in one state after another does not promote the stability and well-being of children.
The case is Miller-Jenkins v. Miller-Jenkins.