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Vermont court
hears arguments in lesbian custody case

Vermont court
hears arguments in lesbian custody case

Vermont's highest court heard arguments Wednesday in a custody dispute between two estranged civil union partners--a key case concerning same-sex couples. Lisa Miller-Jenkins and Janet Miller-Jenkins lived in Virginia but came to Vermont in 2001 to register their civil union because regulations in Virginia do not recognize same-sex relationships. They returned home, where Lisa was artificially inseminated and gave birth to a baby girl, Isabella, now 3. Later they moved to Vermont, where they lived together for just over a year before splitting up; Lisa returned to Virginia with Isabella and has sought to deny Janet visitation rights. A lower court in Vermont has already ruled that Janet had parental rights because the child was born during the civil union, but a lawyer representing Lisa Miller-Jenkins argued before the Vermont supreme court that the civil union was void because the two women lived in Virginia where same-sex relationships are not recognized. "You cannot come to the state of Vermont if you reside in another state and try to evade that state's marriage laws and enter into a marriage here in Vermont," argued lawyer Rina Lindevaldsen, adding that Janet's parental rights could not have been established by a biological tie. However, a lawyer representing Janet Miller-Jenkins accused Janet's former partner of "forum shopping" and urged the court to uphold the initial order in Vermont that said Janet had parental rights because the child was born during the civil union. U.S. laws generally prohibit a parent disappointed with a custody ruling in one state from seeking a more favorable ruling in another state. Associate Justice John Dooley III of Vermont's supreme court noted that the vast majority of civil unions performed in Vermont have been of couples visiting Vermont from states where such unions are not allowed. If the court were to rule in favor of Lisa Miller-Jenkins and deny Janet visitation rights, "a lot of people would be very surprised" to find out that their civil unions were illegitimate, Dooley said. Last week Lisa said in an interview that she had abandoned "the homosexual lifestyle" and grown more religious since moving back to Virginia with Isabella. She did not attend Wednesday's hearing. Janet did attend and read a brief statement after the hearing. "I simply want to say that I sincerely believe it is best for my daughter that both of her parents continue to be an active, loving, responsible part of her life," she said. "I look forward to a fair and compassionate conclusion to this case." (AP)

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