Kicking A Lion

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Justices won’t hear Miller’s visitation request

WINCHESTER — For the fifth time, the Supreme Court decided Monday not to hear Lisa Miller’s attempt to prevent her former civil-union partner from having visitation rights with her daughter.

Miller had asked the justices to overturn rulings from the Virginia Supreme Court and the Virginia Court of Appeals allowing visitation with her child by her former partner.

Miller, who lives in Frederick County, also sought to overturn a Vermont appellate court ruling, which held that Vermont had jurisdiction over the case and Virginia must honor its decision to allow visitation.

Miller and her former partner Janet Jenkins entered a legally recognized civil union in 2000 in Vermont.

The couple decided that Miller would use artificial insemination with an anonymous donor to have a child, and Isabella was born in Virginia in April 2002.

The two women subsequently moved back to Vermont with Isabella, but separated after a year of cohabitation. Miller renounced her homosexuality and returned to Virginia with Isabella.

She denied Jenkins’ request for visitation rights, which led to a series of legal challenges from Jenkins in Vermont and Virginia, with courts in each state issuing sometimes conflicting rulings.

Virginia does not recognize the legality of civil unions, so its courts tended to side with Miller. Vermont, which allows civil unions, sided with Jenkins.

Miller had hoped the U.S. Supreme Court would settle the issue, but the justices declined to hear her arguments on four occasions.

Jenkins appeared to have prevailed in August, when Frederick County Circuit Court Judge John R. Prosser dismissed efforts by Miller to deny Jenkins the right to visit Isabella.

Prosser sent the case back to the Frederick County Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court for enforcement of a visitation order handed down by a court in Vermont.

Miller then took her case to the Supreme Court for a fifth time, but the justices again refused to hear her appeal.

Monday’s legal decision was welcomed by Jenkins’ supporters.

“We are very pleased with the Supreme Court’s decision,” ACLU of Virginia Executive Director Kent Willis said in a press release. “With both Virginia and Vermont courts agreeing that Vermont has jurisdiction, there is clearly no need for the U.S. Supreme Court to step in.”

Rebecca Glenberg, the ACLU of Virginia’s legal director, said the Virginia courts had simply moved to recognize the decisions of Vermont, just as they would have expected other states to respect decisions made in Virginia courts.

“Lisa Miller does not get to cherry-pick her courts to suit her liking,” Glenberg said through the ACLU press release. “Simply because she did not like the Vermont court’s decision does not allow her to try to get a more favorable ruling from another state.”

Federal law stipulates that one state court may not interfere with a custody proceeding in another state.

Jenkins is being represented by the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund of Atlanta, as well as the ACLU of Virginia.

Miller is represented by the nonprofit Liberty Counsel, a public-interest law firm and religious ministry that provides free legal assistance in defense of Christian liberty.

The Liberty Counsel is based in Orlando, Fla., but has a strong connection with Liberty University in Lynchburg. Founder and Chairman Mathew D. Staver is the dean of the Virginia university’s Jesse Helms School of Law.

Staver was unavailable for comment Monday evening.

He said previously that Miller would continue to appeal her case, contending that the Virginia courts should not enforce Vermont’s custody orders because of the state’s constitutional amendment barring same-sex marriages and the legal recognition of same-sex civil unions.

–Drew Houff

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Written by kickingalion

December 9, 2008 at 4:36 pm

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