Vermont/Virginia Lesbian Mother Lesbian Mother Update

There’s a case that has literally been dragging on for years that I’ve talked about repeatedly.   (The link will lead you to the last most recent post and you can follow it backwards from there.)   A new development is worthy of mention. 

Janet Jenkins and Lisa Miller were in a lesbian relationship.  They had a child together–Isabella.  She is now seven. 

Jenkins and Miller split up in 2003 and fought over parentage of the child.  Miller, who had given birth to Isabella, insisted that Jenkins was not a legal parent.   She went to court in Virginia, a state notably hostile to lesbian and gay couples.   Jenkins went to court in Vermont, a state far more supportive of lesbian and gay relationships.   There was quite a bit of wrangling over which state was the correct one for adjudication, which in turn would determine who won. 

Ultimately, courts in both states decided that Vermont was the correct state and Jenkins was recognized as a legal parent of the child.  At that point it became an ordinary custody case between two legal parents.   The Vermont court entered a custody order giving custody to Miller with visitation to Jenkins. 

Unfortunately, Miller appears to be unwilling to recognize Jenkins status as a legal parent.  Thus, she has refused to cooperate with visitation and has effectively hindered Jenkins’ contact with their daughter.   As a consequence of this behavior, the Vermont court has now switched custody to Jenkins.  Jenkins has repeatedly stated her willingness to allow Miller to continue her relationship with their daughter. 

This isn’t really that unusual as custody decisions go.  Each legal parent is entitled to have a relationship with the child, unless that parent is unfit.  Neither Miller nor Jenkins is unfit.  But Jenkins is a preferable custodial parent because she will foster the child’s relationship with her other parents while Miller has demonstrated that she will not do so.  Thus, it is seen as better for Isabella to reside with Jenkins and have access to both her parents.  

But even as it is an ordinary sort of decision, it is also an important one.  This isn’t an ordinary case and it doesn’t have an ordinary history.   Perhaps as much as anything it demonstrates why a lesbian mother must also be a legal mother, so that she can insist on what is best for her child.

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9 responses to “Vermont/Virginia Lesbian Mother Lesbian Mother Update

  1. Hmmm, Jenkins will allow Isabella to continue to see Miller. Wow! What a great gesture! I’m not impressed! Miller is Isabella’s mother and her ONLY MOTHER!! Just because a court in a great travesty of injustice declared Jenkins to be a mother of Isabella cannot make her the child’s mother. Just as if the court declared a blue eyed person to be brown eyed. Lesbian lovers, partners etc should start facing up to the reality that genetics count – a great deal – and just because they got fond of their partner’s kid – it does not make that kid theirs! It is one thing if the lesbian partner co-adopts but this whimsical I’ll be a parent if I want or else just scarper is not helpful to children – at all!!!

  2. There are a number of rationales under which I could defend the designation of Jenkins as a legal mother: She helped plan for the child, she participated in the conception and pregnancy, she helped raise the child and so on. And she did all this with the approval of Miller, the other mother.

    Of course, she would lose on the genetics only criteria, but we already know we disagree on that. I think it is better for the child to have two legal parents here and, in an ideal world, the parents would be a bit better behaved than Miller has been. But it is what it is. Cutting of visitation by either parent isn’t good for the child.

  3. For financial reasons it is definitely better for a child to have two legal parents, however for other reasons it might be better to have only one- to minimize conflict between the two.

    When both parents are known, however, we are unable to discriminate against one or the other so we’re stuck with two parents hoping they don’t feud.

  4. It’s clear to me that the child is best served by maintaining a relationship with both parental figures, and also that Miller’s claim to parenthood clearly trumps Jenkins.

    Perhap parents in Miller’s situation would feel less threatened and thus be less likely to obstruct that relationship if their partners were not considered equal parents.

  5. BTW, what do you mean by participating in the conception? How exactly did she do that? Or the pregnancy?

    And why is planning for the child matter? Is intent so significant? (Never mind the gazillions of children who are unplanned…)

    To me the only relevant criteria seems to be that she functioned as a parent.

  6. I also don’t see why planning for a child makes one a parent and I don’t buy the rationale that two legal parents are better than one. In my view two genetic parents are better than one genetic parent, but if someone is not related genetically, I cannot see why adding him/her as a parent is better for a child.

    • It’s been clear for a long time that we disagree on the genetic stuff. I don’t know that two parents are always better than one and indeed, this is part of what bothers me about the genetics=parent view. Two people who do not have an existing stable relationship with each other are, in my view, unlikely to be good co-parents. That’s why I think we might do better to just say the guy in the one night stand is not a parent.

      But there are instances where two people who are in a healthy and stable relationship want to raise a child together. If they think it through and decide to do so you have something which some call a joint project or a joint endeavor. If that’s what is going on, I think it probably is better for the law to recognize both of them as parents.

      In truth, I’m a little uneasy having both recognized as parents based purely on a stated intent. I’d rather see some sort of performance that confirms the intent. It’s just a bit too easy to intend to do something and not quite follow through. That’s why participation in the process of pregnancy/birth matters to me.

  7. What exactly do you mean participate in the process of pregnancy/birth?

    Sounds like a biological impossibility to me.
    Perhaps you mean financial support? Emotional support? Help with the housework? All those things are PARTNERING activities, not PARENTING activities.

  8. I’ve just read that Miller the genetic mother has gone on the run with her daughter. Usually I am opposed to people breaching a court order, but in this instance I fully support Miller and believe that as a responsible and loving parent this was her only viable option. The order the judge made that this devoted mother should give up her child to a woman wholly unrelated to her child just because she one pursued an immature relationship with the woman at a time when she was struggling to find her real sexuality, was a wholly grotesque, immoral and repugnant order.
    Miller who is now a mature woman is now a Chrristian and affirmed heterosexual and has left alternative lifestyles behind her and wants to bring up her daughter with the ethics that matter most to her now. Rightfully she asks why should Jenkins be allowed to interfere with her relationship with her daughter. I say, let Jenkins go and get herself pregnant and bear her own child if she wants a child of her own instead of trying to steal her ex-partner’s daughter!

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