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The Tragic Case of Lisa Miller and the Consequences of Redefining Family

Last month, after more than ten years in hiding, Lisa Miller surrendered herself to American authorities at the U. S. Embassy in Managua, Nicaragua. Miller, now in custody at the federal detention center in Miami, faces kidnapping and conspiracy charges. She’ll likely be found guilty but, in reality, she’s a victim of bad ideas. A mom, attempting to protect her daughter from her own bad choices and our society’s attempt to redefine marriage, parenting, and the family.

The legal case is as complicated as the story behind it. In 2000, Miller and her partner Janet Jenkins moved from Virginia to Vermont to take advantage of Vermont’s civil union law. Two years later, Miller bore a child, Isabella, conceived through artificial insemination. A year later, in 2003, Miller and Jenkins separated. Miller then moved back to Virginia with her daughter, who was only 17-months old.

In 2004, Miller and Jenkins asked the Vermont Family Court to legally dissolve their civil union. The court agreed and awarded Miller primary custody. However, in an unprecedented move, the court awarded visitation rights to Jenkins.

To that point, though she had agreed to pay child support, Jenkins had no legally recognized parental relationship with Isabella. She had only lived with Isabella during the first year of the child’s life, but the court treated Jenkins as if she were a biological or adoptive parent. It’s difficult to imagine a court doing this, for example, in the case of an unrelated live-in boyfriend.

Later that year, a Virginia court ruled that Miller was Isabella’s sole legal parent. However, Jenkins appealed, arguing that the Parental Kidnapping Prevention Act required Virginia to honor the Vermont court’s ruling. Also at play was the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, a federal statute designed to prevent states from being forced to recognize the civil unions of other states. Despite all this, in the end, the Virginia Supreme Court sided with Jenkins.

By this time, Miller had become a Christian. Not wanting her daughter exposed to the lesbian lifestyle of her former partner, Miller defied the order of the Vermont court and denied Jenkins visitation. In response, Vermont awarded Jenkins primary custody of Isabella.

In 2009, Miller fled the United States with Isabella who was, by then, seven years old. With the help of a Mennonite pastor, they first crossed the border into Canada and then made their way to Nicaragua, where they have lived since fleeing the U.S. Now that Isabella is 18 years old, the court’s custody order no longer applies.

The parental kidnapping charges, on the other hand, do still apply to Miller. Before turning herself in, her final appeal was to the Trump administration for a pardon, which the President did not grant. As she must have known in surrendering herself to the U.S. embassy, mercy from the state of Vermont is highly unlikely.

In a very real sense, this is a story about consequences. Miller is still dealing with the consequences of entering a relationship that was by definition sterile and then demanding a child. She’s also facing the cost of repenting and following Christ, something our Lord tells us to “count” before following Him. She’s facing the consequences of her commitment to protect her daughter from the damage of her previous lifestyle. Out of legal options, she chose to disobey the state as long as necessary in order to protect her daughter, but she’s also accepting the consequences of her disobedience. For Christians in the days ahead, Miller’s story, especially her choices and their consequences, offer incredibly important lessons.

At the same time, Miller is facing consequences of a culture, especially as it is reflected in decisions made by our courts and the legislature, legalizing same-sex unions and sacrifice the well-being of children on the altars of adult desires. No real thought was given to the impact these irregular unions would have on children, never mind what could happen to kids after these unions dissolve. Custody fights are always nasty, even when there is a biological connection! Only when same-sex unions are involved do we pretend as if a biological connection is irrelevant.

As I often say, ideas have consequences, and bad ideas have victims. It’s hard to think to think of a better example than the tragic case of Lisa and Isabella Miller. 

Please pray for the Millers.

Publication date: February 16, 2021

Photo courtesy: Zach Lucero/Unsplash

The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of CrosswalkHeadlines.

BreakPoint is a program of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview. BreakPoint commentaries offer incisive content people can't find anywhere else; content that cuts through the fog of relativism and the news cycle with truth and compassion. Founded by Chuck Colson (1931 – 2012) in 1991 as a daily radio broadcast, BreakPoint provides a Christian perspective on today's news and trends. Today, you can get it in written and a variety of audio formats: on the web, the radio, or your favorite podcast app on the go.

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