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Virginia Child Custody Case Good News for Gay and Lesbian Parents

Lesbian Wins Case for Visitation with Daughter

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Janet Jenkins and Lisa Miller met, fell in love and had a civil union in Vermont in 2000. Lisa had a baby and they began to raise her together. Two years later, Lisa found Jesus and decided she was no longer a lesbian and the two dissolved their civil union. Lisa moved back to Virginia where they were from.

Janet agreed to provide child support and to visit their daughter regularly. But Lisa decided she wanted sole custody of their daughter. She said she considered Janet a friend, but not a parent. To which Janet replied "Friends don't pay child support for other people's kids."

Ideological Battleground

Soon their case became an ideological battleground. Lisa obtained counsel from top lawyers for a conservative religious group and Janet obtained legal help from Lambda Legal, a gay-rights organization.

Virginia’s Defense of Marriage Law

Then in 2004, Virginia’s “Marriage Affirmation Act” became law. The voter-approved law prohibited civil unions or other contracts "between persons of the same sex purporting to bestow the privileges or obligations of marriage." The law explicitly said same-sex unions performed in other states "shall be void in all respects in Virginia, and any contractual rights created thereby shall be void and unenforceable."

Lisa’s lawyers thought the case was now a shoe-in. But it was not so clear-cut. Still, a Virginia judge ruled in October of 2004 that Lisa had sole parental rights. The legal battle went back and forth for years until the case landed in the Virginia Supreme Court in 2008. Lawyers for Janet argued that the Federal Parental Kidnapping Prevention Act be considered in this case. The law was put into place to prevent parents from moving children from one jurisdiction to another where the child custody laws would be in their favor.

Victory for Non-Biological Lesbian Parent

In June 2008, Janet Jenkins won her case. The Virginia Supreme Court upheld the visitation order from Vermont and Janet was reunited with her daughter that she hadn’t seen since 2004. "I'm relieved that this tug of war with my daughter is over," said Janet Jenkins via a Lambda Legal press release. "This has been a very long four years. My daughter and I need some time to be together — she needs her other mom."

Case May Help Other Gay and Lesbian Parents

The case may have implications for gay and lesbian families in the future. The decision is not binding in other states, but other courts could look to it as a precedent in deciding future custody cases for same-sex parents.

Sources: Washington Post, Lambda Legal, The Washington Times

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