Woman files new appeal in lesbian-custody case

Posted on 05 Mar 2009 at 6:01pm
By Zinie Chen Sampson Associated Press

Appeal is ex-lesbian’s latest move in long-running battle in which courts have consistently ruled against her

RICHMOND, Va. — A Virginia woman is continuing her lengthy battle to deny child-visitation rights to her former lesbian partner.

In a brief filed Tuesday, March 3 with the Virginia Court of Appeals, Lisa Miller’s attorneys argue that state law bars the enforcement of a Vermont court order awarding Janet Jenkins visitation rights for 6-year-old Isabella.

Miller’s lawyer, Mathew Staver, said federal law can recognize the order, but cannot force Virginia to enforce it. Staver, dean of the law school at the conservative Christian-centered Liberty University, also said an amendment to the Virginia Constitution that took effect in 2007 bars same-sex marriage and enforcement of same-sex civil unions — an issue he said Miller’s litigation hadn’t previously introduced.

Virginia and Vermont courts have ruled in Jenkins’ favor numerous times since she started fighting for visitation rights upon the dissolution of the civil union she and Miller obtained in Vermont in 2000. The U.S. Supreme Court has refused to hear Miller’s appeals.

Jenkins’ lawyer, Rebecca K. Glenberg of the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia, said Tuesday that the appeal "has nothing new" and Miller can’t introduce Virginia’s marriage amendment now after failing to do so previously. She also said that previous court rulings have determined that under federal law, Virginia courts must enforce the Vermont’s court orders in this case.

The Virginia Supreme Court ruled in June that a federal law aimed at preventing parents from crossing state lines to evade custody rulings requires Virginia courts to enforce Vermont’s order. The Vermont Supreme Court also ruled in Jenkins’ favor in 2006.

The Virginia Court of Appeals ruled twice for Jenkins: Miller’s lawyers missed a deadline for appealing the first ruling, so they filed a second appeal on different grounds. The appellate court determined that the latter case failed to raise new issues, and the Virginia Supreme Court, the state’s highest court, agreed.

In January, a Vermont judge denied Miller’s latest attempt in that state to deny visitation rights to Jenkins. Family Court Judge William Cohen also said Miller risked losing custody of her daughter if she continues to violate court orders. Cohen also rejected Jenkins’ effort to get primary custody of Isabella, but ordered that she get five weeks’ custody in the summer.

Miller gave birth to Isabella in April 2002, but later decided she was not a lesbian and moved back to the Winchester area with the child after the couple split. National gay-rights and conservative Christian groups continue to monitor the protracted legal battle.

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