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Thinking of the Children: The Janet Jenkins and Lisa Miller Custody Case

January 5, 2010

Image by the Associated Press

Since 2004, Janet Jenkins and Lisa Miller have been locked in a custody battle over their daughter, Isabella. After entering in a civil union in 2000, the couple separated and dissolved their union in 2003, agreeing that their only child should live with Miller and that Jenkins should pay child support and be allowed visitation. Shortly after their separation, however, Miller became a born-again Christian and a self-identified “ex-lesbian” and refused to allow Jenkins any unsupervised visitation at all. Conservative Christian groups have championed Miller’s case and perpetuated false accusations that Jenkins abused Isabella.

In November 2009, a court ruled that Jenkins should be granted full custody of Isabella, as it appears to be “the only solution that will allow both parents to see the child.” The ruling was supposed to go into effect on January 1, 2010. Instead of obeying the order, however, Miller has vanished and taken Isabella with her.

From Examiner.com:

The girl was supposed to be handed over to Jenkins on January 1, 2010, but Miller failed to show up and has apparently absconded with Isabella.  Miller has reportedly ceased contact with her attorneys.

Jenkins’ attorney said, “She’s very disappointed, obviously.  She’s very concerned about Isabella and asks that if anybody sees Isabella, that they please contact the authorities.”

Often, in instances such as these, the well-being of children is used as an excuse to demonize opposing views; I have written previously about why that tactic is incredibly harmful. In this situation, however, it is odd that little is being said about Isabella and her thoughts, desires and safety. As Alvin McEwen wrote for Pam’s House Blend:

This case is about a little girl in the middle of an ugly tug of war. It’s not about “a cause,” “position,” or an “agenda.”

But it’s also not about a mother trying to protect her child.

It’s about a woman who refuses to follow the law.

I can honestly say that  Jenkins doesn’t care about some supposed gay agenda. Her position has been consistent since day one. All she wants is the right to be in Isabella’s life, like she and Miller decided when they were together, like they agreed would happen after the split up, and like the courts said she had every right to be.

This case isn’t (and shouldn’t be) about whether or not homosexuality is moral, or whether or not lesbians can be mothers. This is one case which is really only about the well-being of the child in question. And McEwen is right — Jenkins isn’t fighting for any political cause or agenda. She won’t refuse to allow Isabella to see Miller or attend church with her. She never even originally requested full custody of Isabella. All she cares about is that her daughter is safe and happy and that, if at all possible, she can know and have a relationship with both of her mothers. That is the only real issue in this situation, and it is the issue those discussing it should focus on, rather than the finger-pointing accusations of former significant others.

For the sake of everyone involved, I hope that Isabella is safe and that her whereabouts are disclosed soon. Beyond that, I hope that this most recent court ruling is upheld and that both Jenkins and Miller will be able to have a relationship with Isabella. Miller’s anti-LGBT beliefs should not prevent her from ever seeing or knowing Isabella — after all, at seven-years-old, Isabella only really knows Miller as her mother, and it would be cruel to remove that connection entirely. However, it does sound as though that Jenkins receiving primary custody of Isabella is the best way for both mothers to maintain bonds with their child. It is my hope, therefore, that the ruling is upheld and that Isabella can grow up knowing that she is loved by both of her parents.

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