Photo: Janet Jenkins, left, Lisa Miller, right.
A Virginia court is ordering Lisa Miller, the birth mother of 7-year-old Isabella, to transfer custody of the child to her former gay partner, Janet Jenkins.
But Miller's whereabouts are unknown, she has renounced homosexuality and become an evangelical Christian, and this unusual custody case has arrived at an intersection of religion and sexuality that the U.S. Supreme Court doesn't want to touch.
Photo: Janet Miller-Jenkins, 39, of Fair Haven, Vt.
Miller and Jenkins were joined in a civil union in Vermont in 2000. Their daughter, Isabella, was born to Miller through artificial insemination. Then the couple broke up in 2003, and Miller moved to Virginia, where she eventually joined a church founded by Jerry Falwell, and prevented her former lover from seeing the daughter they were raising together.
Now Miller seems to have disappeared altogether. After failing to appear in a Vermont court last Friday, she's facing possible contempt charges. A lawyer for Janet Jenkins, who lives in Fair Haven, Vt., filed an emergency motion for contempt against Lisa Miller for not surrendering the couple's daughter.
Photo: Lisa Miller, April 17, 2008.
A Vermont judge ordered Miller to transfer custody of the child last November.
Jenkins' attorney Sarah Star says a Bedford, Va. family court order filed Monday ensures a Vermont court order issued last week is enforceable in Virginia.
That motion seeks court sanctions and the assistance of law enforcement in locating Miller, whose last known address was Forest, Va., but who appears to be in hiding.
The Jenkins family called police after Miller failed to show last week. A detective interviewed the family and determined that Fairfax County, Va. authorities would not be investigating the child's whereabouts because of jurisdictional concerns, said Officer Tawny Wright, a police spokeswoman.
"I am so worried about Isabella," Jenkins said in a written statement issued by her lawyer. "I do not know where she is or whether she is okay."
Miller's lawyer, Mathew Staver, didn't immediately return a call seeking comment.
Isabella Miller-Jenkins was delivered by Miller after a pregnancy that began with artificial insemination.
The lesbian partners broke up a year later, and Miller moved to Virginia, setting the stage for a custody fight that has been closely watched by gay rights advocates, as well as conservative religious groups.
Even though she is not the biological mother, courts in Virginia and Vermont have ruled in favor of Jenkins. However, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear arguments on the case.
The court filings Monday were made in family court in Rutland, Vt.
Judge William Cohen, who granted the couple's civil union dissolution and has presided over the custody battle since, didn't immediately rule on the contempt citation request or set a hearing date, court officials said.
A year ago, in ruling against Miller's bid to deny visitation by Jenkins, the judge warned Miller she risked losing custody of the girl if she continued to violate orders. On Nov. 20, he made good on the warning, ordering the custody change. Miller has argued that Jenkins, who has no blood tie to their daughter, also has no parental rights, and has withheld the child from Jenkins.
"There is a homosexual agenda at work here, and Isabella is a pawn in their game," Miller said to Newsweek. "It has nothing to do with the law. Isabella was saved at age 4, loves God, and knows what's right and what's wrong. We don't hate Janet. We pray for her soul and salvation."
Jenkins' lawyers say their concern is the girl's safety.
"My goal has never been to separate Isabella from Lisa," Jenkins said in her statement. "I just want Isabella to know and love both of her parents. I just want to be with her, like any parent."