An arrest warrant for Virginia resident Lisa Miller was likely to be issued this week, according to lawyers involved in her child custody dispute that has become a focal point in the nation’s same-sex parenting debate.
Miller’s former partner, Janet Jenkins, came forward Monday with a plea to help find her 7-year-old daughter, Isabella, after Miller failed to return her by a Jan. 1 deadline set by Rutland Family Court in Vermont.
“I am so worried about Isabella. I do not know where she is or whether she is OK,” Jenkins said in a statement.
Jenkins said she and Miller were involved throughout Isabella’s conception, birth and early years. But Miller, who claimed she was no longer a lesbian and became an “ex-gay” advocate after the couple separated, denied this during court proceedings to dissolve their civil union and arrange custody of Isabella.
“My goal has never been to separate Isabella from Lisa,” Jenkins said. “I just want Isabella to know and love both of her parents. I just want to be with her, like any parent.”
Her lawyers in Vermont, including Sarah Star and Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, said they were disappointed the transfer of custody did not occur as ordered.
“We’ve petitioned the court to issue a bench warrant because of Lisa’s continued refusal to comply with the custody order,” Jennifer Levi, a GLAD senior attorney, told DC Agenda. “The Rutland Family Court has been very responsive to this contempt [of court] concern that Janet has raised and could order pretty quickly.”
Judge William Cohen, who has handled the case from the beginning, was to rule on the bench warrant. No decision was announced before Agenda deadline.
Liberty Council, which represents Miller, filed an appeal with the Vermont Supreme Court, but it was not known if that appeal would continue if Miller’s whereabouts continued to be unknown.
Miller’s lawyers in Virginia, including Liberty University Dean of Law Mathew Staver, did not return the Agenda’s calls or e-mails this week.
Miller previously told Newsweek: “I do not feel safe leaving my daughter with [Jenkins], and I believe I have a God-given and constitutional right to raise my child as I see fit. There is a homosexual agenda at work here, and Isabella is a pawn in their game.”
The court had awarded Jenkins full custody last year after Miller failed to comply with an earlier custody order giving Jenkins access to their daughter.
Police in Virginia’s Fairfax County this week declined Jenkins’ requests to help find Isabella. Missing persons police reports were filed in Fairfax and Bedford counties, where Isabella lived and went to school.
The Virginia branch of the American Civil Liberties Union, which represented Jenkins in that state’s Supreme Court case over jurisdiction of the Vermont court orders, said the issue has been settled and that Virginia law enforcement should respect the Rutland Family Court’s custody ruling.
Rebecca Glenberg, the ACLU Virginia branch’s legal director, said Miller had shown herself to have no respect for the rule of law and the matter was no longer about non-biological parenting.
Lambda Legal, which also has supported Jenkins throughout the case, said their main concern is the safety of Isabella.
“Our client has done everything she can as a loving parent to work within the system to protect her child,” said Greg Nevins, a Lambda Legal senior attorney. “Lisa Miller has repeatedly defied court orders and her behavior has been outrageous and harmful.”
Conservative and “ex-gay” groups rallied to defend Miller after the case became public in 2004, launching the Protect Isabella Coalition. Concerned Women of America and the National Organization for Marriage have, in the past, criticized the Vermont judge.
But this week, Maggie Gallagher, National Organization for Marriage president, said it was a tragedy all around and didn’t blame either party.
“I have sympathy for the pre-eminent claims of natural parents versus legal parents, when the natural mother is a fit parent (which nobody has denied in this case). But we have to be a nation ruled by laws, even when those laws may be unjust,” Gallagher said in an e-mail to the Catholic News Agency.