Mennonite pastor charged with aiding kidnapping in same-sex child custody dispute

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A Mennonite pastor in Vermont has been charged with aiding in international kidnapping after he helped a woman flee the US with her child – because she did not want to share custody with her former lesbian partner.

As reported by CBS news, Reverend Kenneth Miller is being charged for helping Lisa Miller and her daughter Isabella leave the country back in September 2009. This came a month after a judge indicated he planned to award custody of the girl to Ms Miller’s former partner, Janet Jenkins, as Lisa Miller had been acting in defiance of visitation orders.

Ms Miller had “renounced” her lesbianism after becoming an evangelical Christian.

The case is significant in that it has raised legal and religious questions about same-sex couples and child custody. The fact that the mother and daughter remain at large has also held public attention.

Prosecutors said that Rev. Miller, 46, arranged for a third party to drive Lisa Miller and her daughter from Virginia to Buffalo in upstate New York, from where they crossed the border into Canada. It is said they were then driven to the airport by someone from the Ontario Mennonite community. From there they flew to Nicaragua.

Once there, Ms Miller and her daughter were apparently taken in by a group of American Mennonites who felt they needed to protect the latter from what they deem to be a sinful lesbian lifestyle.

Lisa Miller and Janet Jenkins were joined in a civil union in Vermont in 2000, just after the state became the first in the country to legally recognise same-sex relationships. Isabella was conceived through artificial insemination, and both women took on active parenting roles.

The couple dissolved their civil union in 2004 and Ms Miller – who soon after moved to Virginia – was given primary custody of Isabella. Ms Jenkins was given visitation rights.

Ms Miller appealed against the court’s decision for five years, but ultimately lost her battle. After defying visitation orders, she became a fugitive in 2009 when she disappeared with Isabella.

In her testimony, Ms Jenkins spoke of her shock when she travelled to Lynchburg to pick up Isabella – who will now be 10 – only to find no one at home.

Reverend Kenneth Miller and Lisa Miller are not related.

The trial continues.