In a child custody case involving two lesbians, a judge ruled a Vermont civil union is not valid in the state of Virginia.
Virginia Circuit Court Judge John R. Prosser said his state’s laws do not permit civil unions or same-sex marriage.
The case centers on a dispute between Lisa Miller and her former partner Janet Jenkins over Miller’s biological child.
Miller is represented by Liberty Counsel, a Florida-based public-interest legal group.
Responding to the ruling, Mathew D. Staver, Liberty Counsel’s president and general counsel, said “unless the federal Constitution is amended to protect traditional marriage, same-sex marriage advocates will continue using the courts to force their agenda on the rest of the country.”
“The definition of marriage is not for judges to decide,” he said. “It must be decided by the people. It must be uniform. When the people speak on this issue, they overwhelmingly choose marriage as one man and one woman.”
In December 2000, the two women, while living in Virginia, obtained a civil union in Vermont, which earlier that year became the first state to establish a legal arrangement offering same-sex couples most of the benefits of marriage.
Miller later gave birth to a girl through artificial insemination, but the child was not adopted by Jenkins.
The relationship ended when Miller became a Christian and claimed Jenkins was abusive. Miller, who says she no longer is a lesbian, lives with her daughter in Virginia.
A Vermont court awarded Jenkins “parent-child” contact and visitation. But a Virginia court declared Miller to be the sole parent, ruling the Virginia Marriage Affirmation Act barred recognition of civil unions.
Liberty Counsel pointed out that in addition to state law, the cases involve application of the federal Parental Kidnapping Prevention Act – which requires courts to recognize out-of-state custody and visitation orders – and the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which allows states to reject out-of-state, same-sex unions and any rights from that relationship.
Simultaneous appeals of the Miller v. Jenkins case remain pending at the Vermont Supreme Court and the Virginia Court of Appeals, but Jenkins asked a Virginia judge to register the Vermont trial court order granting her “parent-child” contact and visitation.
Registration is the first step to enforce an out-of-state visitation order in Virginia, Liberty Counsel notes.
Although he acknowledged the Vermont order could not be enforced while the appeals were pending, Domestic Relations Judge William Sharp, nevertheless, registered the Vermont order.
Miller appealed the registration decision, leading to Circuit Court Judge Prosser’s ruling that the order was not permissible because Virginia does not recognize a Vermont civil union.
The Vermont order must now be removed from the court registry.