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.