Isabella Miller-Jenkins is a 10-year-old little girl on the run in Nicaragua with her mother, Lisa. At least, the FBI thinks that they’re still in Nicaragua. They’ve been tracking the two through Mennonite missionary communities in Central America since Lisa Miller abducted her own child in the fall of 2009. The case has been seen as a major issue for same-sex parents and the legal framework surrounding civil unions. But really, the “same-sex” aspect of this case doesn’t make it any difference. This is a case of parental kidnapping, pure and simple.
The New York Times has done amazing investigative work into the flight of Lisa Miller and her daughter, Isabella. They’ve tracked down those who harbored the fugitives. They’ve done an amazing job laying out the details of the case and contacting those on every side of the legal battle. Really, it’s a great piece of journalism about an amazing story. The only problem is that this piece assumes such a legal battle and story could only happen within the somewhat new realm of civil unions and same-sex parents.
For those of you who aren’t acquainted with the story, Isabella Miller-Jenkins is the daughter of Lisa Miller and Janet Jenkins. The two entered into a civil union in Vermont in 2000 and planned on starting a family. Through in vitro fertilization, they had a little girl. However, when Isabella was just 17-months-old, the couple separated. Lisa moved back home to Virginia and began an exhaustive legal battle to essentially cut Ms. Jenkins out of their daughter’s life. She routinely denied visitation, or just wouldn’t be home after Jenkins had traveled ten hours to see her daughter.
Miller asserted that her actions were to protect her daughter from the homosexual lifestyle. Attempting to explain her actions, Miller wrote to the court, ”What is at stake is the health and well-being of an intelligent, delightful, beautiful, 7-year-old Christian girl,” she wrote. Isabella ”knows from her own reading of the Bible that marriage is between a man and a woman,” she wrote, ”that she cannot have two mommies, that when I lived the homosexual lifestyle I sinned against God, and that unless Janet accepts Christ as her personal savior, she will not go to heaven.”
And therefore, when a judge got tired of Miller’s continued attempts to keep Isabella away from her other parent, Lisa Miller decided to go on the run with her child. With the help of the Mennonite Church, she got to Central America and started a new life under false names, constantly on the look-out for US Marshals.
The thing about Lisa Miller’s actions is that they are not unique to former same-sex couples. Right now, the FBI has lots of parents who have disappeared into other countries with their children during custody battles. Faical Chebbi took his two children with him to Tunisia and called their mother to say that they were never coming home. Ann Kibalo disappeared from New Hyde Park, New York with her 12-year-old daughter, who primarily lived with her father. Flora Mahmood took her son to Dubai and then Pakistan from her husband who had primary legal and physical custody.
Parental abductions, especially when faced with losing custody or visitation, are not unique to same-sex parents. And the case of Isabella Miller-Jenkins is not any different from the other cases. More than anything, this case seems to be a religious-based one, an issue that affects many separating parents. It’s sad to see Janet Jenkins kept from a daughter she loves and cares for. And it’s sad to a see a little girl caught in the middle of a very adult issue, a lack of tolerance and a general disregard for her personal well-being. I refuse to believe that being on the run, being in the middle of parental battles and being told that one of her parents is going to hell is beneficial for a child.
I think it’s important to remember though, this case is not a referendum on same-sex marriage or civil unions, just like those other cases aren’t a referendum on traditional marriage.