Vermont court upholds lesbians visitation rights

Posted on 20 Mar 2008 at 3:55pm
By Lisa Rathke – Associated Press

Ruling is latest in drawn-out custody battle over girl, now 5, conceived through artificial insemination while women were in civil union

MONTPELIER, Vt. — A woman involved in a high-profile custody dispute welcomed a Vermont Supreme Court ruling March 14 upholding her visitation rights to a child her former lesbian partner had when they were together.

"I think it’s absolutely wonderful," said Janet Miller-Jenkins, 43, of Fair Haven. "It’s just affirming that she indeed has two parents."

After hearing an appeal from Lisa Miller-Jenkins on March 13, a three-judge panel ruled that it had no reason to re-examine the case.

"There is no new evidence or facts to consider that would affect our prior legal conclusions," the justices said.

Lisa Miller-Jenkins, of Winchester, Va., has been fighting to bar custody to her former partner since the two split up in 2003, three years after they had obtained a civil union in Vermont.

In April 2002, Lisa Miller-Jenkins gave birth to the girl, who was conceived through artificial insemination, and the three moved to Vermont. About a year later, Lisa Miller-Jenkins renounced her homosexuality, returned to Virginia and denied Janet Miller-Jenkins’ access to Isabella, who’s now 5.

An attorney for Lisa Miller-Jenkins argued that the full court’s 2006 decision in the case was wrong because Virginia law prohibits civil unions and same-sex marriage, so Janet Miller-Jenkins has no legal standing as a parent.

But Vermont’s high court disagreed, saying there was no basis to revisit the legal challenges to the civil union.

"Moreover plaintiff’s argument that the interests of justice compel foregoing the doctrine in this instance because a young child is being forced into contact with a stranger is nothing short of disingenuous in light of the family court’s unchallenged findings regarding the child’s best interest and plaintiff’s contemptuous conduct," the three-justices said.

David Corry, a lawyer with The Liberty Counsel, who represents Lisa Miller-Jenkins, said he hopes the U.S. Supreme Court will weigh in on the case.

"It’s an important issue as to whether citizens from one state can have another state decide custody of their children that were not born in that state and where, as citizens of Virginia, they weren’t even entitled to enter into a civil union," he said.

Jennifer Levi, a lawyer for Gay & Lesbian Advocates and Defenders who is representing Janet Miller-Jenkins, said the ruling was consistent with the court’s previous rulings.

"This seems just to be the other side’s tireless efforts to try to reverse what has been very sound decisions of the family court that have respected the relationship between Janet and her daughter and has ensured that that will continue," she said.

The ruling is the latest in a drawn-out custody battle playing out in courts in Virginia and Vermont. The Virginia Supreme Court is expected decide next month if Virginia can be required to enforce Vermont’s family court ruling in the Miller-Jenkins case.

Janet Miller-Jenkins sees it as the last legal hurdle.

"It’s a tragic story, that is actually beautiful because my daughter doesn’t seem to be negatively affected by this," she said.



This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 21, 2008

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