More than three years into an unprecedented legal battle between a former lesbian couple over the custody of a daughter, attorneys of the biological mother presented oral arguments Wednesday to Virginia's highest court.
Lisa Miller, who was formerly in a same-sex civil union with Janet Jenkins, is the mother of five-year-old Isabella. She is currently fighting to have Jenkins, who has neither a biological nor an adoptive relationship with the daughter, not be declared a parent to Isabella.
Miller and Jenkins had entered a civil partnership in Vermont in 2000. A few years into the civil union and after Miller had Isabella through artificial insemination, Miller ended the relationship, alleging that Jenkins was abusive and controlling. Miller also became a born-again Christian and was determined to leave the homosexual lifestyle. She took her daughter and returned to her home in Virginia where Isabella was born and where same-sex civil unions are not recognized. The mother filed for dissolution of her civil union in Vermont.
After years of battling in the courts, a final order from the Vermont Family Court Judge William Cohen in June dissolved the civil union and granted physical and legal custody of Isabella to Miller. The court also ordered regular parent-child contact between Jenkins and Isabella.
Challenging Jenkins' status as a parent in the case, Miller's attorneys from the Christian legal group Liberty Counsel are now asking the Virginia Supreme Court to hear the case and uphold Virginia law that prohibits recognition of any rights associated with same-sex couples. Rena Lindevaldsen of Liberty Counsel was scheduled to present the argument on Wednesday.
Previously, the Virginia Court of Appeals ruled that despite Virginia's marriage laws, it had to recognize the Vermont order declaring Janet to be a parent of Miller's daughter.
"Virginia law makes a Vermont same-sex civil union invisible," argued Mathew D. Staver, founder of Liberty Counsel, in a statement. "Through the legislature and a constitutional amendment, Virginia has stated in the strongest terms possible that it will not recognize a same-sex civil union or any rights arising from such a union. Regarding same-sex civil unions, what happens in Vermont stays in Vermont."
"Virginia has ignored her laws and has allowed the importation of Vermonts civil union law into her state. Consequently, a five-year old is being held hostage," Miller argued in a letter this month.
In her letter, Miller urged for prayers for her daughter and for the Virginia courts to hear her case and rule in her favor.
Meanwhile, her daughter has reportedly become a witness for the Lord during her regular visits to Jenkins' Vermont home.
According to Miller, Isabella told Jenkins that "God says I can't have two mommies" although Miller had never told her daughter to say that. And in an April visit, Isabella asked Jenkins if she was a Christian and if she believed that Jesus had died on the cross for her sins.
"She is so blessed by God that it is impossible to give me any credit for her witnessing to Janet," said Miller of Isabella.
After hearing oral argument, if the Virginia Supreme Court takes the case, the court will schedule briefs to be filed and set another round of oral argument, according to Liberty Counsel.