Vermont Supreme Court Ruling Begins Showdown Between States Over Same-Sex Unions

Aug 4, 2006

Montpelier, VT - Today the Vermont Supreme Court issued a ruling in a case that pits the same-sex civil union laws of Vermont against the laws of Virginia, which preserve marriage as a union of one man and one woman. Vermont's highest court upheld a lower court order requiring a biological mother to take her child from Virginia to Vermont on a regular basis to allow visitation by the mother's former lesbian partner who is unrelated to the child. The court order directly conflicts with a Virginia court which declared Lisa Miller to be the sole parent and ruled that the Virginia Marriage Affirmation Act barred recognition of civil unions. Liberty Counsel represents Lisa and her child. Rena Lindevaldsen argued the case on appeal.

The cases involve Lisa Miller, her biological child, and Janet Jenkins. Lisa and Janet traveled to Vermont to obtain a civil union while living in Virginia. Lisa gave birth to a child through artificial insemination. Janet never adopted the child. The relationship ended when Lisa became a Christian and Janet became abusive. Lisa is no longer a lesbian. She resides with her daughter in Virginia.

The cases involve the application of the federal Parental Kidnapping Prevention Act (PKPA), which requires courts to recognize out-of-state custody and visitation orders, and the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) which allows states to reject out-of-state, same-sex unions. The Miller v. Jenkins case is unique because it represents the first time that the courts of two states have issued conflicting decisions over a same same-sex union case. It is also the first case to involve dueling federal laws. This case will proceed to the United States Supreme Court because there is a conflict between the Vermont and Virginia rulings.

The Vermont Supreme Court ruled that Vermont refused to recognize the jurisdiction of the conflicting Virginia court ruling. The Vermont court also ruled that, unlike the marriage law, a person from another state can obtain a civil union knowing that the home state does not recognize the union. It also ruled that a nonbiological same-sex partner can be a legal parent. The court also found Lisa Miller in contempt for not obeying the Vermont order.

Commenting on the case, Liberty Counsel Founder and Chairman Mathew D. Staver stated: "Today's ruling tramples on parental rights and state sovereignty. Virginia law refuses to recognize same-sex marriage or civil unions. Under the federal Defense of Marriage Act, Vermont does not have the right to impose its same-sex union policy on Virginia. The Vermont ruling illustrates that same-sex marriage or civil unions will inevitably clash with other states. This case will have to be resolved at the United States Supreme Court."

The Miller v. Jenkins case is also pending at the Virginia Court of Appeals. If the court upholds the lower Virginia court rulings, that case will also make its way to the U.S. Supreme Court.