Curious Custody Clash: Did Religious Right Spark An ‘International Parental Kidnapping’?

A Vermont custody battle serves as a reminder of just how much some Religious Right activists hate gay people.

Religious Right groups talk a good line about “family values.” But, as a recent case from Vermont indicates, some groups have an unusual definition of what that term means.

In 2003, a same-sex couple in Vermont, Lisa Miller and Janet Jenkins, decided to split. The two had a legally binding civil union and were the parents of a child named Isabella. Although Isabella is the biological daughter of Miller, the two women had raised the child jointly, and, after their civil union was dissolved, a Vermont court granted primary custody to Miller and gave Jenkins liberal visitation rights.

But Miller, who became involved with a conservative Baptist church and now denounces homosexual relationships, has repeatedly denied Jenkins’ right to visit Isabella. Miller moved to Virginia, where she became a martyr for Religious Right groups that championed her cause.

Backed by Mat Staver’s Liberty Counsel, Miller fought in Virginia courts to nullify the Vermont court’s visitation order. That gambit failed when the Virginia Supreme Court refused to intervene in the matter.

Things took a turn for the worse for Miller in 2009, when a Vermont court, citing her non-compliance with the visitation order, shifted primary custody of Isabella to Jenkins.

At that point, Miller and Isabella disappeared.

According to a New York Times report, a Tennessee pastor stands charged with helping Miller flee the country.

“According to an F.B.I. affidavit unsealed in Vermont on Thursday, the pastor, Timothy David Miller of Crossville, Tenn., helped arrange in September 2009 for Ms. Miller and Isabella to fly from Canada to Mexico and travel on to Nicaragua, where he worked as a missionary for Christian Aid Ministries,” reported The Times.

Added the newspaper, “Ms. Miller and Isabella stayed in a beach house in Nicaragua that is owned by a conservative businessman with close ties to Liberty University, an evangelical school in Lynchburg, Va., and whose daughter works at the university’s law school, according to the affidavit.”

Staver insists he does not know what happened to Lisa Miller and Isabella. He told The Times that he always advised Lisa Miller to abide by the law. Yet something about this isn’t quite right. Staver is dean of Liberty University’s law school – and it just so happens that someone connected to the school appears to be sheltering the two.

Is it just me, or does this not pass the smell test?

Just to be clear, I’m not accusing Staver of any wrong-doing. But I do believe an atmosphere exists at Liberty Law School that led some people there to believe they could elevate their interpretation of “God’s law” over U.S. law.

Victoria Hyden, the woman whose father is accused of sheltering the two, is an office assistant at Liberty Law School. Her father, Philip Zodhiates, owns a direct-mail marketing firm in Virginia. He would not talk to The Times but has previously denied that Lisa Miller and Isabella are staying at his house in Nicaragua.

The Tennessee pastor, David Miller (he is not related to Lisa Miller) may be the key to mystery. He has been indicted for aiding in an “international parental kidnapping.” My guess is, Pastor Miller knows where the two are. Perhaps he’ll ‘fess up rather than go to prison.

In any case, this unfortunate situation is a reminder of just how much some Religious Right activists hate gay people, and it illustrates that some Religious Right zealots are willing to defy the rule of law when it suits their purposes.

The bottom line is that a little girl is being denied access to a woman who helped raised her and who loves her. You could call that many things. “Pro-family” isn’t one of them.