By Kent Willis, Executive DirectorIn Only One Mommy*, lawyer Rena Lindevaldsen tells the story of her client Lisa Miller, an erstwhile lesbian involved in a child custody and visitation legal battle with her former partner in a Vermont civil union.
The case is both simple and complex. In 2000, Lisa and Janet Jenkins traveled from Virginia to Vermont to take advantage of Vermont’s law allowing same-sex partners to engage in legal contracts similar to marriage. They then decided to have a child, with Lisa as the biological parent. They named the child, born in 2002, Isabella Miller-Jenkins.
When Isabella was a year and a half old, Lisa and Janet broke up. In a Vermont court, Lisa was awarded primary custody, and Janet was given visitation rights.
It should have ended there, but Lisa who had moved back to Virginia decided to fight the order allowing Janet visitation and went to court both here and in Vermont to gain total control over Isabella. Except for one local Virginia judge, Lisa lost at every turn, including in the supreme courts in both states, and was repeatedly ordered to allow visits between Janet and Isabella.
Lisa refused, so both the Vermont and Virginia courts held her in contempt. When she still refused, the Vermont court awarded custody to Janet. In the fall of 2009, just before Lisa was supposed to transfer custody of Isabella to Janet, Lisa and Isabella disappeared.
If the reader is looking for insight into the heartrending emotions surrounding the unraveling of Lisa and Janet’s relationship and the effects on their young child, don’t bother to read Only One Mommy. Despite traveling 600 miles to enter into a civil union, despite the decision to have and rear a child together, and despite giving the child both their last names, Lindevaldsen maintains that Lisa was only superficially committed to a relationship that she did not fully understand.
If the reader is looking for a dispassionate discussion of the intricate legal issues that arise when couples enter into same-sex unions in a state that recognizes them but then move to state that bans them, don’t bother on that front. There is only a cursory, one-sided view of the legal proceedings.
On the other hand, if the reader is looking for a simplistic, lockstep regurgitation of the sham doctrine that all gay men and lesbians are evil and sick but can be rescued by religion, this book is just the ticket.
Homosexuality is an addiction, writes Lindevaldsen. It has nothing to do with genetics and everything to do with moral weakness and environmental pressures. As the book cover puts it, Only One Mommy is an “account of how people are lured into believing they are born gay and cannot change.”
Homosexuality is also immoral. Quoting Randy Thomas of Exodus International, Lindevaldsen writes that “the opposite of homosexuality is not heterosexuality—it’s holiness.”
A central theme of the book is that the legal system has failed Lisa, but Lindevaldsen talks out of both sides of her mouth, and neither one is convincing. She excoriates “activist judges” for making laws from the bench that benefit gay men and lesbians, while averring that judges “are not bound to follow laws that violate the higher law—God’s law.” In other words, judges should be strict constructionists unless God directs them not to be.
Lindevaldsen presents Lisa’s story as one of serial compound addictions, starting at a remarkably young age. At six Lisa has a manipulative eating disorder described as an addiction. In the second or third grade, she starts taking diet pills to which she seems to be fully addicted by the fifth or sixth grade, when she also becomes addicted to cigarettes. Shortly after that, apparently in the seventh or eighth grade, she adds pornography to her list of addictions. In college she becomes addicted to alcohol, which she mixes with the diet pills. All these additions lead to depression and counseling, which lead to the most serious addiction of them all: lesbianism.
Blame is found everywhere around Lisa, although none of those at fault are referred to by name. Lisa’s mother is credited with introducing her to the diet pills and the pornography. Her father’s general store was the source for her cigarettes. Her boyfriend, who would later become her husband, added hard liquor to her list of addictions.
In sequence, a co-worker, a social worker, and then a hospital counselor lure her into lesbianism. The hospital counselor, who assisted her after she attempted suicide, pushed Lisa over the top when she told her she was a lesbian and that she would not be released from the hospital until she confessed it to her family.
But the Christian religion, which in Lindevaldsen’s mind unequivocally condemns homosexuality, brings Lisa around after she gives birth to Isabella.
Lisa apparently spoke at length with Lindevaldsen and even gave her access to her journals, which are quoted extensively. But Lisa disappeared two years ago, so much of the book was apparently written without her aid.
At the ACLU of Virginia when people question us about our interest in defending free speech, including offensive or extreme speech, I respond that that when all views are allowed to be expressed, it becomes clearer to us as a society which have value and which don’t. In the end, the valuable views that contribute to our progress and enlightenment move us forward, while the valueless views only expose themselves for what they truly are.
Those who fought to preserve slavery, Jim Crow, and women’s inequality had lot of ears turned their way at one time in our history. But those views are now universally discredited, and the people who held them are seen as the losers in the battle for progress and fairness. Lindevaldsen may have just written a nice, short, easily digestible manifesto for the ultimate losers in the battle for equality for gay men and lesbians.
*Only One Mommy, by Rena M. Lindevaldsen, was published in June 2011 by New Revolution Publishers.
Note: The ACLU of Virginia and Lambda Legal represent Janet Jenkins in the court proceedings in Virginia.