Christianity,  News,  Politics

Do Same-Sex Partners Have Parental Rights?

Rev. Kenneth Miller is a Mennonite minister from Virginia, and he is facing prison. Why? Because he helped a woman named Lisa Miller flee the country with her biological daughter. Why was that a crime? Here’s the story from the Burlington Free Press:

Lisa Miller and [Janet] Jenkins entered into a civil union in Vermont in 2000, shortly after the state became the first to legally recognize same-sex relationships. Miller conceived the child through artificial insemination, and both acted as parents.

Lisa Miller later became an evangelical Christian and renounced her homosexuality. A child-custody case went to Vermont family court in 2004, after the couple dissolved the civil union. Lisa Miller, who moved to Lynchburg, Va., was given primary custody of Isabella, with Jenkins given visitation rights.

Lisa Miller appealed for years, but ultimately the courts in Virginia and Vermont determined the case would be bound by the Vermont family court order.

After defying visitation orders, Miller became a fugitive in 2009 when she disappeared with Isabella.

Rev. Miller stood accused of helping Miller to leave the country with her daughter. Miller and the biological mother had religious beliefs that stood in direct conflict with the laws of Vermont. Apparently, they held that Jenkins had no valid claim to visitation rights with a little girl who was not her daughter in the eyes of God—even though she might have been in the eyes of Vermont. After his guilty verdict came down—a verdict that could land him in jail for up to three years—Rev. Miller said this:

I’ve already surrendered my freedom to Christ, and if this is the path he chooses for me, I will walk it. I am willing to accept the consequences… I am at peace with God. I am at peace with my conscience. I give it over to God.

There’s a video of Rev. Miller taken just after his conviction came down. You can watch it here. He is respectful of the civil authority and is prepared to pay the price for breaking the law. His demeanor and his words after the trial are truly remarkable. You should watch them.

Do same-sex partners have parental rights even if they have no biological connection to the child? The short answer is yes, they do—depending on what state you live in. This is one of the consequences of legalizing gay unions. It doesn’t matter if a biological parent has a religious conversion that ends a same-sex relationship. That “divorced” same-sex partner may have a legal claim on the child even though the child has no natural relation. I think we can expect to see more cases like this one.

It’s a good reminder that the legal definition of marriage is not a private matter. If the law says marriage is one thing, that will be the definition that you will be forced to observe in these kinds of situations no matter what your religious beliefs are. In this case, Lisa Miller is forced to submit to Vermont’s definition of marriage and parental rights even though Vermont’s law directly contradicts her most deeply held beliefs. The definition of marriage has public consequences, and these are the kinds of conflicts that we will all have to reckon with as the definition of marriage changes across our country.


  • Matt Martin

    So what’s your take on this…is it okay to aide in the kidnapping of a child because of personal religious beliefs?

    And to come out and say this is a “consequence of legalizing gay unions” is misleading as this issue could arise in any situation that involves divorce, adopted children, different religions between spouses, etc…

    • Denny Burk

      Dear Matt and James,

      The question is whether or not civil disobedience to an unjust law is ever justified. Biblically speaking, a Christian should only participate in civil disobedience when obeying the government means disobeying God (see Acts 4:19; 5:29). When a government official or a duly enacted law commands something that God prohibits or prohibits something that God commands, then the Christian must disobey that official or that law.

      I think that principle has to be applied to situations like Lisa Miller’s and her daughter’s. I don’t know enough about the case or the details to weigh-in definitively on their case. Rev. Miller contended that he did not know he was breaking the law when he helped her to leave the country. Did Lisa know that she was breaking the law? If neither of them really knew, then it wouldn’t technically be considered civil disobedience.


  • James Rednour

    Yes, I agree with Matt. I’d really like to know if you believe kidnapping a child and fleeing the country is acceptable. Let’s say this was a heterosexual union in which the father was a non-believer and the wife became a Christian. Should she be allowed to kidnap their child and flee the country in order to insure the child was raised as a Christian? This could happen under any number of circumstances yet you choose to use this as a way to further the war against same-sex unions.

  • Dylan Valliere

    Matt Martin,

    This new story is not merely about a custody dispute or child kidnapping–it’s a debate regarding whether same-sex partners can even have such parental “rights.” In this instance, the Vermont court said yes, while Lisa Miller and Rev. Miller said no.

    I’d like to hear Denny’s perspective on whether or not Lisa Miller and Rev. Miller made appropriate decisions here (in violation of the general principle of submission to governing authorities–Romans 13).

    Whatever one’s take on that question, however, the truth of the matter remains–this particular situation came about and had to be wrestled through by the courts, Lisa Miller, Rev. Miller, and others BECAUSE AND ONLY BECAUSE our country is beginning to grant homosexual relationships legal status. And that is what this post is about.

    • JamesStanton

      Is this a chicken and egg thing, Dylan? Our country is starting to grant legal status to homosexual relationships because they are increasing in number and homosexuals and those supportive of them are increasing their political power where possible. Have the courts helped? Of course. But I’d say they feel pressure too.

      Denny, why else would she have left the country with her daughter other than to escape the law?

  • Ryan Conway

    Is this a case of biblical civil disobedience on the part of Rev. Miller? Maybe. One thing lost in these comments is what should we expect Lisa Miller to do? The law was essentially being used to require a woman who has renounced a lifestyle of sin and experienced true liberty to turn around and place her daughter in that sinful environment. What would we expect her to do? What would any of us do if that was our child?

  • John Klink

    He did break the law as defined by Vermont, and Virginia simply backed up Vermont’s law. And for such Rev. Miller will face whatever sentence that civil government hands down for his civil disobedience. There are those here (and elsewhere) who question how this is biblically okay to disobey the civil government in this case, when it would not be permissible were this a case of a heterosexual couple. The rest of the case depends on the foundation that homosexual and heterosexual marriages are actually ‘equal’. Although ‘same-sex marriage’ is legally equal to heterosexual marriage in Vermont, it has never been permissible (let alone equal) in God’s eyes. However, a Christian and a Buddist man/woman are married in God’s eyes – And Paul would recommend they remain married unless the unsaved spouse wanted the divorce. However, Lisa Miller did not “get divorced” from a marriage that was ever recognized by God.
    So the question that must first be asked is, “is it right in God’s eyes, that the civil government was going to coerce someone to obey civil rules which are conrary to God’s Word?” After this question is answered biblically, then we can ask if Rev. Miller and the other missionaries were justified in getting involved themselves.

  • PastorMoose

    Denny – thanks for posting this. This case really brings to light the issues and turbulence that occur when world views collide.

    Is this anything less than religious persecution, i.e., for a Christian mother to have her daughter forcibly taken by Caesar and handed over (if only occasionally) to a champion of homosexuality?

    Yours in Christ

    Randall Seale

  • ryan

    Mr Burk,
    You are a coward. if you do not like my comments at least you should have said so and not rewrite them. It is because of people like you, we continue to loose ground before the wicked. I am so disappointed. I will not visit your site ever again …

  • Jonathan Lee

    Dear Denny,

    As in so many case, things are not always as they first seem to appear. From my closer to inside understanding of the story, I don’t believe that Lisa would have fled, or Ken would have helped her if it had ONLY been just a case of the child visiting her “other mom”.

    From my understanding, there was serious trauma being witnessed that was being ignored by the courts. When a young child returns from visitation and threaten suicide, something really bad is going on that should not be ignored. Follow this link for the story. I believe it is fairly accurate.

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