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Mennonite pastor in lesbian custody case sentenced to 27 months for aiding international parental kidnapping

March 4, 2013 - Andrea Johnson
I would not have found Kenneth Miller guilty, but apparently a judge in Vermont disagrees.

He sentenced the Mennonite pastor this afternoon to 27 months in prison for aiding international parental kidnapping three years ago, according to the Huffington Post. Miller remains free while he appeals his sentence.

Miller's crime was driving Lisa Miller (no relation) and her young daughter across the New York state-Canadian border in 2009; Lisa Miller was seeking to avoid turning her child over for visitation with her former lesbian civil union partner. Lisa Miller and her now 10-year-old daughter are currently in hiding, presumably living somewhere in Nicaragua. A judge awarded full custody of the girl to Miller's former partner, Janet Jenkins, in the fall of 2009, two months after Lisa and her child left the country.

Kenneth Miller has been in jail since last month on contempt charges because he refused to testify against other people who allegedly helped Lisa Miller and her daughter flee the country. Lisa Miller left Jenkins when the child was 17 months old, moved to Virginia from Vermont, returned to practicing evangelical Christianity and said she was no longer gay. She lost custody because she repeatedly refused to allow Jenkins visitation.

Jenkins, despite lacking a biological connection to the child and not having legally adopted her, was determined by a court to be the girl's legal second parent because she was legally joined in a civil union to Lisa Miller when the girl was born.

My feelings about this contentious custody case, which I have been following for a number of years, are complex. I think gay marriage should be legalized and that the rights of gay parents should be respected under federal law; I think Miller's actions were unfair to Jenkins and to the child. I also found myself favoring Lisa Miller in this case primarily because she is the biological mother and the primary caregiver. It seemed decidedly unjust to the child to hand her over to Jenkins, a woman she had seen intermittently and seemingly didn't have a close bond with, particularly when she was said to be distressed at the idea of being taken away from her mother.

The case has been a lightning rod for both conservative Christian and gay rights groups because of everything that is at stake: the legalization of gay marriage or the preservation of marriage as an institution between only one man and one woman; the rights of gays to parent children who aren't biologically theirs; the role that Christianity plays in the public square.

Kenneth Miller apparently agreed to help Lisa Miller because of her particular circumstances as well as his own religious convictions against gay marriage. I thought Kenneth Miller had a fairly good defense because, at the time he drove the pair across the border, Lisa Miller still had legal custody of her daughter.

I have no idea how successful Kenneth Miller's appeal will be but I do admire the man for having the courage of his convictions, even though I do not share all of them.

"It is true that my actions flow out of my faith in Jesus, and from my deeply held moral beliefs – and I sincerely think they do – then it must follow that whatever judgment is being brought against me by the United States of America, is judgment on my faith and conscience and deeply held moral beliefs," Kenneth Miller wrote in a letter from jail. "I was faced with a woman in distress who needed help to protect her daughter from what seemed to be an inhumane court decree."

Isabella Miller will turn 11 next month. She has now lived for 3 1/2 years in hiding in Nicaragua.


Article Comments



Mar-06-13 12:09 PM

That's pretty much it in a nutshell. I think the prosecutors also hope to put pressure on Kenneth Miller and others who helped so they will reveal where Lisa Miller and Isabella are living. Based on earlier reporting, federal agents have put some heavy pressure on members of the Mennonite group that helped here and have called ex-members, offered assistance in return for information from them and so on.

I don't know what would happen if the feds actually found Lisa Miller and Isabella. Presumably they are in Nicaragua illegally and there would be heavy U.S. pressure on Nicaragua to deport them. On the other hand, Nicaragua is not a party to the Hague Compact governing international parental abductions and doesn't recognize gay marriage. Under Hague, a parent can argue against returning the child if it would cause distress or if she is now at home in her current country. Isabella might also be old enough for a judge there to take her wishes into account.


Mar-05-13 5:19 PM

I respect this man too.


Mar-05-13 7:48 AM

Crazy, what a world!


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