Thursday, September 22, 2005

A very sad story

Les Kinsolving, who I think writes very well and is clearly well researched, has this sad story on a little girl getting caught in the never-never-land of the current state of marriage/civil unions in the US. He is trying to (and maybe does, you decide) make the point that we should leave the traditional marriage alone and civil unions don't do that! I read his story and come to a different conclusion. We must find a reasonable way to deal with the children affected before we worry about the rights or non-rights of the adults.

I have selectively pulled the segments of the piece that lay out the facts but I encourage you to read his article for his take. Compare it to mine and let me know what you think.

Those members of the Vermont state Legislature who voted to approve same-sex civil unions are now faced with a consequence ...(my cut here)...
Judges in Vermont and Virginia have different ideas about what is best for Isabella Miller-Jenkins, 3, born to a woman who had a civil union with another woman in Vermont. The relationship ended two years ago. Now each woman says Isabella is her daughter, with one asserting exclusive motherhood.

The judge in Vermont ruled that the women should "be treated no differently than a husband and wife."
This Vermont judge established a visiting schedule and held the biological mother, Lisa Miller, in contempt of court when she failed to comply with it.

The judge in Virginia ruled that Ms. Miller had the sole right to decide who could see the child. He ruled that the former partner, Janet Miller-Jenkins, had no "parentage or visitation rights."
Ms. Miller moved back to Virginia, where Isabella was born, in September 2003. The couple had visited Vermont briefly for the civil-union ceremony in 2000 and lived there for more than a year after Isabella was born in 2002.
And speaking of "conflicts around the nation," Ms. Miller-Jenkins told the Times of a new and equally serious development; aside from the fact that her former, but now apparently divorced, lesbian civilly-unioned lover is no longer so united to her: "When I left Janet, I left the homosexual lifestyle and drew closer to God."

There is a short novel in here. I will just hit the high points.

1. State laws are not in synch on this issue. In my opinion this is not the kind of issue that courts should decide. The questions that pop from that assumption are... should the federal legislature intervene? If not, which state law should we follow.

2. This case is complicated by the fact that it appears that these two women did not move to Vermont with the intention of living there and get hitched. The child was also not born there. They got hitched in a state they did not intend to live in because the state they did live in would not allow it. In my mind that plays into the answer to point 1 above for this case. That would not be the case for two people who lived in Vermont and one fled to Virginia for a favorable ruling.

3. This case points out the similarities and the differences between civil unions and marriage. Forget that, a lot of states now have laws or constitutional amendments that force state courts not to recognize same-sex marriages from other states. (There is a point in there for the cerebral among you).

4. Maybe this isn't about same-sex anything. If I married a woman who got pregnant by some other man/method and we divorced would I have any say in that child's future if I did not formally adopt the child? In some states I would and in others I would not. Likewise with responsibility (assuming I can prove I didn't father the child), just in case you were wondering. I have no clue what Vermont law would be in that case. One can assume from the quote from the Vermont court above that I would have parental rights but that assumption might be wrong. The judge could well be asserting that if I lived there my wife's child would be my child until proven otherwise.

5. Should the religious beliefs of the ex-lesbian biological mother matter in this case? I would be happy to debate either side of that issue against someone who thinks the answer is simple.

6. I have opinions on marriage. I have very strong opinions on not dragging kids through multiple courts and hearings and examinations to let a bunch of unelected black robes decide what the law ought to be on each and every case. We should find a national consensus on this (for both the straight and gay) and make it "common law". The kids shouldn't have to suffer because we can't get our act together.


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