To refresh your memory, Lisa Miller and Janet Jenkins were partners. They even made it official in Vermont that, at the time, recognized civil unions between gay men and lesbian women. In due course, the couple decided to have a child and Miller got herself impregnated with the help of a doctor and donated sperm. Here’s what I wrote two years ago (Fathers and Families, 4/25/11).
For her part, Jenkins was there every step of the way, supporting Miller during her pregnancy, waiting with her during labor and at the hospital. She was a hands-on mom who did the majority of the breadwinning for the couple and their child.
In short, she was the “father” and Miller was the mother.
Not surprisingly, when the two split up, the court treated Jenkins and Miller exactly that way. It gave Miller primary custody and Jenkins visitation.
All that would have been unfair to Jenkins, just as it’s unfair to the millions of fathers who get the same short shrift every year, but the matter didn’t end there. That’s because Miller not only didn’t want to maintain a relationship with Jenkins, she didn’t consider herself a lesbian anymore. Plus, she had come to believe that lesbianism was morally wrong.
That in turn led her to do what we so often see mothers doing – trying to cut the father out of his child’s life. Only in this case, the “father” was Janet Jenkins. So, just as in so many cases, the mother moved out of state (from Vermont to Virginia) and refused to allow any contact between Jenkins and the child they’d both helped raise.
So determined was Miller to prevent all contact between Jenkins and their daughter that eventually a Vermont court ordered a switch in custody. Too late. Miller and child had already left the country, and it soon became clear that she had help. Specifically, a Mennonite pastor named Kenneth Miller (no relation to Lisa) helped her cross the border into Canada and then fly to Nicaragua where she and the girl reside to this day.
The FBI found out about Kenneth Miller’s part in the deprivation of Jenkins’ rights and arrested him. Last August he was found guilty of aiding an international kidnapping. On Monday he was sentenced by Federal Judge William Sessions III to serve 27 months behind bars. Prosecutors had asked for the maximum penalty – incarceration for 2 1/2 – three years. The defense asked for no jail time based in part on the fact that Miller is a first-time offender.
Miller’s claims in this case bore little resemblance to legal reality. For example, he claimed that the court couldn’t sentence him because his actions were based on his strict adherence to biblical teachings.
“If it is true that my actions flow out of my faith in Jesus, and from my deeply held moral believes (sic) — and I sincerely think they do — then it must follow that whatever judgment is being brought against me by the United States of America, is judgment on my faith and conscience and deeply help moral beliefs,” he wrote.
“I was faced with a woman in distress who needed help to protect her daughter from what seemed to be an inhumane court decree,” Miller said, writing from the jail where he has been held for refusing to tell a grand jury about other people involved in the case.
If he was trying to claim that his conviction and punishment violated his First Amendment right to freely exercise his religion, he was barking up the wrong tree. The law is clear that the free exercise clause applies only as long as religious precepts don’t interfere with the laws of civil authorities. Miller’s behavior plainly violated several laws and he was rightly convicted.
Moreover, Miller’s reliance on the Bible looks to be new-found. As recently as last August at trial, Miller was claiming he didn’t know about the Vermont court’s order giving Jenkins custody of the little girl. This article reported on the trial back in August (Christian Post, 8/9/12).
However, Kenneth Miller’s lawyer, Joshua Autry, responded by saying he would prove that the pastor believed Lisa Miller had full custody of Isabella when she fled to Nicaragua via Canada. Addressing the jury, Autry added that their decision was not going to be a referendum for or against civil unions in the state. “It’s going to be about whether, at the time of the removal, Janet Jenkins had parental rights.”
Hmm. A mere six months ago, Miller was less interested in what the Bible says than what the judge in Vermont had ordered and when. Now all he can talk about are his faith and morals which he invariably describes as “deep.”
Not only that, but he’s also pretending to have been a helpless tool of Lisa Miller.
Kenneth Miller’s attorneys say the help he gave them was an “amateurish” and “unsophisticated” operation that only worked because law enforcement was not paying attention. They said his adherence to his beliefs made him an easy target for Miller.
“He, along with the Amish-Mennonite community, were an easy target to be used by Lisa Miller and others helping her,” his attorneys wrote.
Obviously Judge Sessions didn’t buy that rot, and didn’t go easy on Miller because he had no criminal record. Still, I’d like to point out to Miller and others with similar inclinations (like the Catholic Worker community in Toronto that abetted Helen Gavaghan’s abduction of her daughter for three years) that the appearance of a “woman in distress” on your doorstep doesn’t relieve you of the obligations the rest of us have to assess the situation and try to do what’s right. In this case, Kenneth Miller seems to have decided that, because Janet Jenkins is a lesbian, she shouldn’t have any contact with the daughter she loves and has helped raise. In so deciding of course, Miller also decided that the little girl shouldn’t have any contact with one of the women she thinks of as her parent.
Kenneth Miller’s failure is far more than a legal one, although it’s certainly that. He intentionally opted for violating the law on child custody and the Vermont court’s order. But he also chose to honor his religious beliefs over the well-being of a child. I understand that the Bible frowns on sex between men and men, and women and women. Fine; Lisa Miller and Janet Jenkins haven’t been in a sexual relationship with each other for many years, so that issue is moot. Still, I assume that Jenkins either has or will enter into a sexual relationship with another woman and that, if her daughter lived with her, she’d come to understand the nature of the relationship between her mother Janet and her new partner.
Me? I couldn’t care less about that. The gay men and lesbian women I know who have children are exemplary parents. Whatever the Bible may say about homosexuality, here in the 21st century we know a lot about what promotes child well-being. And there’s no evidence that children raised by same-sex couples fare worse than those raised by heterosexual couples. Lisa Miller took a child away from one of her parents. That’s child abuse. Kenneth Miller helped her do it and injured a child in the process. He belongs in prison.
Miller is seeking to remain free pending his appeals.
Thanks to Glenn and John for the heads-up.